LANSING, Mich.—State Sen. Tom Casperson has sent a letter to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) urging the organization to waive its age-eligibility requirement for students with disabilities.
The lawmaker also introduced a resolution in the Senate this week proposing that the association adopt a specific and limited exception to its antiquated rule.
Michigan students currently cannot compete in high school sports if they are older than 19 before September 1. This is the only rule that is not subject to a waiver.
“The current age policy is well intentioned, but it is an outdated rule that unnecessarily punishes students with disabilities who sometimes reach high school at an older age through no fault of their own,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “Waiving the age requirement for these students will contribute to their growth and confidence while ensuring the integrity of high school sports.”
Casperson introduced Senate Resolution 145 on Wednesday, calling on the MHSAA to adopt a policy that allows an age-eligibility waiver in certain cases.
The need for the rule change is highlighted by the situation of Eric Dompierre, a junior at Ishpeming High School who has Down Syndrome, which led to his being held back in junior kindergarten and first grade.
“Eric loves basketball and football, and that has been a catalyst for his success in school,” Casperson said. “Playing these sports has provided Eric with the camaraderie of his teammates and helped build his self-esteem, self-confidence and identity—lessons that often cannot be learned elsewhere. We should not deny Eric or any other student these opportunities.”
Eight states, including Ohio, specifically provide for an age-eligibility waiver for students with disabilities, while fifteen other states allow for waivers from any policy if undue hardship to the student would occur.
Casperson said if these states can find a way to balance the integrity of high school sports with the needs of students with special needs, so can Michigan.
“More than 80,000 people have signed an online petition urging the association to waive the age-eligibility requirement,” Casperson said. “It is time for the MHSAA to take action.”
Senate Resolution 145 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.