Friday, January 25, 2013

Leveling the Playing Field?

Having officiated basketball games for the Special Olympics--and having seen Paralympian in action--I can tell you that these programs have done a wonderful job of allowing the handicapped and disabled to participate in--and learn the valuable lessons from--competitive sports.  But, apparently the Obama Administration doesn't think those private organizations are doing a very good job.  How else to explain yesterday's order from Arne Duncan and the US Education Department that public schools must provide co-curricular sports options to disabled students?

The Associated Press article on Thursday's order details a couple of examples of highly-functioning students that have been granted rules modifications in order to compete with "able bodied" students in the past.  A blind wrestler's opponents were required to maintain physical contact with him at all times--since he could not see them if they attempted to elude his grasp.  But at what point are you bending the rules to where true competition is being compromised? 

For the past few seasons, the Menasha Boys Basketball program has had a player with only one fully-functional arm.  He has played within the regular rules of basketball his entire career and has earned the opportunity to play--showcasing the adjustments that he has had to make to compete with his peers.  Under this new order, can he now request that defenders not be allowed to force him to dribble to his disabled side? 

The story also details an Ohio high schooler who "runs" track in a wheelchair.  He has always had to be alone in heats--never allowed to compete head to head with able-bodied runners.  He hopes the order will allow him to "run" with everybody else from now on.  So does that mean that wheelchair-bound children should compete side by side in other sports as well?  Will we have wheelchair basketball players--which is played with different rules on dribbling and defending--on the court with kids that can run and jump?  And will sled hockey players need to be included with regular skaters?

If you are saying "no" to these questions, then you need to come up with a way for already cash-strapped school districts to develop alternative options for kids who want to play these sports.  And, you had better find a way to provide equal access to facilities as well--or you will have lawsuits on your hands.  Ask any of our local athletic directors how hard it is to schedule games and practices for basketball with six boys and girls teams already competing for gym time.

My biggest fear with orders like this from The Government is that primary schools will choose to follow the same path universities and colleges took following the institution of Title IX: if we don't have the money to meet the "equal opportunity" requirement for all sports, then we will just cut men's programs until the women are "equal".  Keep in mind, the definition of 'disabled" has changed drastically in recent years, with the increased diagnoses of various levels of autism in children and Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder. 

This will certainly give meaning to the phrase "It's a whole new ball game."

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