Monday, June 4, 2012
Father of 19-year-old with Down syndrome: 'I couldn't be happier' son will be allowed to play as senior
from the Detroit Free Press by Mick McCabe:
The crusade is over. The Michigan High School Athletic Association is going to let 'em play.
An overwhelming 94% of responding schools voted to approve an amendment to the MHSAA constitution enabling students with disabilities to petition to participate as 19-year-olds.
"I think it tells us what to do," MHSAA executive director Jack Roberts said.
It has been a 2 1/2-year battle for Dean Dompierre, who wants his 19-year-old son Eric, who has Down syndrome, to be able to play on the Ishpeming football and basketball teams.
"I couldn't be happier," Dean Dompierre said. "It's a relief, after 2 1/2 years, to get some positive results from this."
MHSAA rules prohibit students from participating in athletics if they turn 19 before Sept. 1. It was the only rule in the MHSAA handbook not to have any exceptions. Michigan was one of 27 states that did not allow waivers to the maximum age rule.
But as the Dompierres became more aggressive in telling their story -- father and son testified before the state education committee in May -- the state senate passed a resolution encouraging the MHSAA to change its constitution.
"I think there was a concern that the legislature would try to write a rule and might write it badly but pass it anyway," Roberts said. "The feeling was if this was to be done, it should be done right. It shouldn't be any other state's model. It should be what we thought would work best in Michigan."
Beginning this fall, students with medically documented disabilities recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act or Michigan's Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act can request a waiver to play as a 19-year-old if their educational process had been delayed before their enrollment in high school.
A student's disability must diminish physical and either intellectual or emotional capabilities and cannot create a health or safety risk to participants and does not create a competitive advantage for the team.
The waivers, which must be approved by the MHSAA's Executive Committee, will be for one year only and will allow students to compete in their first four years of high school enrollment.
Dean Dompierre began his campaign to add an amendment to the MHSAA's constitution when he realized Eric would be ineligible to play as a senior.
"I've spent hours and hours -- countless hours -- over the last 2 1/2 years sitting with a laptop in my lap, typing things up, sending things to people and receiving things from people. This certainly makes it all worth it," he said. "It's not just for Eric. It will be great to be able to see Eric play, but I'd love to be able to go to some other games to see kids who are going to benefit from this."
Roberts said the rule was not initially popular with school administrators, who were concerned over the growing number of disabilities and how the waiver process would be handled.
"I think the strength of the proposal we have prepared and has been adopted is this: There must be a medically documented disability before the student reaches seventh grade that has slowed the educational progress and is a direct cause of the slowed progress, and not just because the parents wanted to redshirt the kid," Roberts said.
Dompierre established a website ( letemplay.us) to present Eric's story. The website detailed the 23 states that allow waivers for students with disabilities to play as 19-year-olds and contained an online petition urging MHSAA officials to allow schools to vote on an amendment to allow a waiver.
"I never expected it to get as big as it did and to have as many people jump on board as did," Dompierre said. "The last I checked, it was over 93,000 people from all walks of life and all corners of the earth signed that petition. They had never ever met Eric, but they signed the petition. I'm sure there were hundreds, if not thousands, of letters sent to the MHSAA supporting these kids."
Watch ESPN's E:60 feature: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:7992850