Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Schools Following Mandate

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Schools Following Mandate

Article excerpt

Nick Leo is confined to a wheelchair.

But that does not dictate what he can and cannot do. And it certainly does not stop him from bowling.

The Demarest freshman suffers from Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a rare genetic disease that causes a progressive loss of muscle control.

But Leo competes for the Norsemen's bowling team, thanks to a specialized ramp and accommodations made by the school district, including a wheelchair-accessible bus and the help of an aide.

One day after the U.S. Department of Education told schools they must make "reasonable modifications" to include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternative options, many North Jersey athletic officials said they already comply.

The reason is the 2009 law signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine directing the NJSIAA to establish interscholastic programs in "adaptive" sports for students with disabilities.

Closter's Leo is an example that that policy already is in effect.

"It's pretty incredible to see what he can do," said Demarest bowling coach Damon Affinito.

The department of education's sweeping mandate includes kids afflicted with physical and cognitive disabilities. It has the potential to rival the change brought by Title IX and the expansion of athletic opportunities for women, possibly changing the face of scholastic locker rooms -- and school budgets -- forever.

But Demarest hardly is the only district that said it already adheres to the new guidelines.

Garfield has made accommodations for a deaf student trying out for the baseball team this spring.

The district hired a sign language interpreter to aid him in all games and practices.

It's not just about following the law, according to Mike Alfonso, Garfield's athletic director. It's about doing the right thing.

His 8-year-old daughter, Jessica, has Down syndrome.

"I am sure she wants to swim, because that's what she likes to do," Alfonso said. "She is active -- plays baseball, goes to dance. She does everything every little kid does."

The policy at Passaic makes it simple, said athletic director Greg Komeshok: "Our policy here is we allow anyone to try out for any sport or activity regardless of their handicap. …

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