Should State High School Associations Establish Leagues for Disability Sports?

Article excerpt

State high school associations and the National Federation of State High School Associations should do a number of things to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunities as their nondisabled peers to participate in interscholastic sport programs.

The playing rules in many sports still blatantly discriminate against individuals with various disabilities, not only prohibiting them from participating, but also excluding them from opportunities, even to try out for a team. Coaches in wheelchairs, on crutches, or with walkers are also often barred from playing fields!

During the mid-1970s, stimulated by provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, the rules of several interscholastic sports were modified to enable athletes with disabilities to participate right along with their non-disabled classmates and teammates. The basic principles governing such modifications were to devise necessary accommodations in order to make the playing rules nondiscriminatory, while not changing the basic nature of the game and its integrity, nor giving unfair advantages to participants with disabilities. Rule changes were made for sports such as football, soccer, wrestling, swimming, cross country, and some track events.

A review of these rule modifications and further changes are certainly needed in these and other sports governed by the National Federation of State High School Associations and individual state associations. All sport governing bodies also need to be an integral part of this process of change and must be alert to ways in which certain rules discriminate against coaches (i.e., what can and can- not be taken into a coach's box in baseball and softball; wheelchairs in team areas in football).

The Minnesota model--in which special interscholastic competitions for students with disabilities were organized, implemented, and accepted by the Minnesota State High School Athletic Association in the early 1990s--has been very successful and could (should) easily be followed by other states. Athletes with disabilities in Minnesota are afforded all the same benefits as nondisabled athletes--regular schedules and playoffs, paid coaches, uniforms, travel, regular athletic letters, and recognition.

The Georgia state high school athletic association has also incorporated rules and regulations so that students with disabilities can participate in interscholastic sports. Several states (Washington, Louisiana, Iowa, Connecticut) have included special sections for individuals with disabilities in state meets. These do not affect team standings since not all schools are represented. This is as it should be, guaranteeing fairness, equity, and the integrity of each sport. There is no reason for other states not to take similar steps.

--Julian U. Stein, Oliver Springs, TN.

Yes, there should be leagues for disability sports in high school, but it would require a tremendous expense. Logistics aside, students with disabilities should be given opportunities similar to those given to students without disabilities. The benefits of high school leagues are tremendous. They help instill leadership skills and self-confidence. Sport leagues also help students see themselves as a part of something, which gives them a reason, other than academics, to be at school. The health benefits of sport leagues are also enormous.

Perhaps existing sport leagues could welcome students with disabilities onto their teams. This could help cut down on costs, and it would also serve as a way of integrating students with and without disabilities. Students often learn more from helping other students and from receiving help from a peer.

--Christy Scott, graduate student, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA.

I believe that state high school associations should not establish leagues for disability sports, at least not in the current economy. It would require an excessive amount of money that schools just do not have right now. …