ISHPEMING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan high school is hoping for a rule change that would allow a student with Down syndrome to play football and basketball next season with an age-limit waiver.
That would require the Michigan High School Athletic Association to change its constitution, which states that students who turn 19 before Sept. 1 are ineligible to play sports for the full school year. Eric Dompierre, who started school late because of his disability, turned 19 earlier in the school year.
MHSAA associate director Tom Rashid said a third request from Ishpeming High School. to have member schools vote on the matter was received Tuesday. Two-thirds of member schools would have to vote in favor of allowing students with disabilities to apply for a waiver.
Rashid said the MHSAA’s representative council has decided against the change, adding that feedback from other schools has been in favor of keeping the universal application of the absolute rule.
“The council has had a very open and thoughtful discussion about this, going back to Dec. 2010, and has decided not to advance the issue to the point of voting on a constitutional change,” Rashid said Wednesday. “Schools expressed concerns about the difficulty of dealing with the broadening definition of a disability and whether a student’s age could become an unfair competitive advantage.”
The age rule, according to the MHSAA, has survived every legal challenge.
Dean Dompierre has attempted to gain support for the change that would help his son and other children with disabilities by starting an online petition that has collected 7,000-plus signatures.
“I’ve been blown away from the support we’ve gotten across the country,” he said. “If you read the comments on the petition page, it’s really heart-warming.”
Dompierre said his next step is to get support from other schools across the state to vote for a change.
“We’re a proud member of the MHSAA, which makes the right decision 99.9 percent of the time,” he said. “We just think in this particular instance, the MHSAA has misread the amount of support there is to help kids with disabilities.”
His son ecently told WLUC-TV said he just wants to keep playing ball with his teammates.
“I’d be sad if I couldn’t play with them and not have them in my life,” Eric Dompierre told the Upper Peninsula TV station. “They want me to play, and I want to play with them.”