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 UpperMichiganSource.com 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)