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There’s a Time and Place for Common Sense

Eric Dompierre is one of the smaller guys on the Ishpeming High School basketball team in Michigan.  He’s 5’1 and 130 lbs.  He doesn’t get much playing time. In fact, he really only plays when his school’s team is well ahead of its opponent.  But Dean Dompierre, Eric’s Dad, told me that he puts his heart and soul into the games.  He shows up to all the practices and logs extra time in the weight room.  And he doesn’t give up.  Eric Dompierre has Down Syndrome.

It’s not about the points Eric scores in a game or the number of assists or rebounds, it’s about playing a game he loves. “We’ve never let the fact that he has a handicap be the handicap,” says Dean Dompierre.

But Eric won’t be allowed to play next year- his senior year- because of his age.   His parents held him back in elementary school because of his Down Syndrome.  He is now 19 and  will be ineligible under Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) rules.

His parents have started an online petition to change that.

It has not been an easy fight.  The Dompierres and Ishpeming High School have twice asked the MHSAA to revise the rules to allow Eric a chance to play next year.  Twice they’ve been denied.   The reason is bureaucracy.

The MHSAA has leeway to waive all kinds of rules. The one rule they can’t easily waive is the age requirement. It’s written into the MHSAA Constitution.    The only way around it is to convince more than 800 school athletic directors in the state to vote for an exception.  Two-thirds of the member schools would have to agree to the change.

MHSAA Associate Director Tom Rashid told his hands are tied.  “One of the reasons why high school sports is so valuable is because of the rules and the adherence to them. I can’t pretend to walk a mile in the young man’s shoes, but I do know that often times, there’s a lesson to following the rules. You know, we agreed to follow these rules, and well, I might not agree with the rule, but I’m going to follow it.”

But Dean Dompierre says there are other states that make exceptions.  He went online and researched every state’s athletic age policy.   He found out that eight states grant waivers to their age rule for disabled athletes who meet certain criteria.  Fifteen other states allow their association leadership to make exceptions any rule.

Dompierre points to language from Ohio that he hopes could be used as a model for Michigan.

Ishpeming High School has filed yet another appeal.

Dompierre says his son Eric thinks of himself as an athlete. He wears the school uniform proudly. He inspires his teammates and members of the opposing teams.

It doesn’t matter if he spends most of the game on the bench. What matters is that he has a seat next to all the players on that bench.  It would be shame to take that away.

(copyright 2012 ParentsDesk)

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Category: Education

Comments (4)

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  1. Dean Dompierre says:

    Thank you for writing this story and getting the word out about my son and others like him. It’s our sincere hope that the MHSAA leadership reconsiders its hard-line position against those with disabilities.

    What I hear Mr. Rashid saying is that his rules are etched in stone and must be adhered to regardless of their effectiveness or other people’s opinions. We in Ishpeming hold ourselves and our children to high standards of compassion and acceptance. We hold those organizatons to which we belong to those same high standards. We strongly feel that it is our obligation to stand up for all kids and fight for rule changes (even within our own organization as in this case) when those rules impose unnecessary hardships upon a student.

    While Mr. Rashid may feel that his rules are beyond reproach and scrutiny, when a rule serves the leaders of an organization to the expense of the individuals it is supposed to serve, it’s time to change the rule and quite possibly the leaders.

  2. Good luck, best wishes in changing that rule. Eric’s commitment is no doubt an inspiration to his team. Go Eric!

  3. I will be tweeting and posting about this…shame on MHSAA for not knowing when to bend the rules.

  4. SportsDadHub says:

    Good Luck, Dean. I’m sure Eric’s leadership by example has made every player on his team better.
    Come on MHSAA. Remember why your organization is in place. FOR THE KIDS!

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