The last few days, there has been an interesting highlight on ESPN’s SportsCenter. As part of the “Top Plays,” a middle-school student from Michigan named Owen Groesser has had some of his high-arcing 3-point baskets featured on the broadcast. A social media campaign not only got the highlights on the air, but a SportsCenter camera made it to this evening’s game, where he made a pair of baskets.
Groesser has Down syndrome.
I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but late today, word came that the Obama Administration is sending out a letter to schools nationwide mandating that persons with disabilities have an equal chance to participate on high-school athletic teams.
In essence, it is a Title IX-esque protection for those with disabilities. Schools are now responsible for accommodating the disability, or for providing some sort of outlet for participation.
Years ago, when freelancing on a Web project, I did a story on Caroline Miller, a swimmer from Harvard who just happened to be deaf. Like in many meets nationwide, the Colorado timing system has a strobe light to indicate to the field exactly when the starter presses the button to begin the race. Race organizers didn’t have to do much to accommodate her. She was treated very much like everyone else on the team, except a translator attended meets to assist the media with interviews.
But the Department of Education edict is sure to elicit more questions, especially from cash-strapped school districts. What kind of access should be allowed for certain contact sports such as football? Can there be enough demonstrated interest amongst wheelchair-bound students in such Paralympic staples as goal-ball and wheelchair rugby? Can able-bodied members of the varsity basketball team supplement a wheelchair basketball team?
Friday is going to be a new day, for sure. But how states and districts apply the tenets of the letter will be, I think, very uneven, which could lead to court challenges which will make us examine who we are when it comes to providing help and assistance to those who need it.
That, I think, will be the true impact.