I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
I thought that I would share some thoughts on the recent announcement that individuals with disabilities need to be included in athletics. I was quoted in a story that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on Saturday (http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/schools-told-to-accommodate-special-needs-athletes-gb8h1of-188435541.html) and I thought I would expand on some of these thoughts. As I was typing this blog, I was sent the following link from the Depart of Education, Civil Rights Division (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201301-504.pdf)
This weekend, my son participated in his first Special Olympics basketball tournament of the season. With 4 games going on at one time, it is pretty easy to see the ability of many athletes and how they could compete with their peers on the high school level. I talked with a number of parents and they all felt the same way I do. In talking with one family member of an older child, they wish they would have been a better advocate when the individual was a child as they felt that the individual did have the ability to compete, but just assumed that because the individual had a disability, they could not compete. I don't think that some people realize that there may already be athletes competing on the high school level that have a disability.
In most schools, students wearing their letterman's jackets are looked up to at the school. It doesn't matter what the letters were earned for. It could be band, music or athletics, they are looked up to by some in the student body and in the community for that matter. Why shouldn't an individual with a disability not be able to earn that same letter and move around their community proudly showing off their accomplishments?
I am not saying that a reasonable accomodation should gve the individual an unfair advantage. But a reasonable accomodation is just that, somerthing that is reasonable. I mentioned in the article about an individual running along side my son in the grass during a track meet. I think that peer to peer support is the way to accomplish this, since the individual is already on the team, there is no additional cost to the school. Who better to help a teammate then another teammate. I am hearing from more and more parents of atletes whose teams are doing team building exercizes, this is no different.
I also don't think that teammates would have a problem with these accomodations. If the main goal is to win and if the new teammate gives the team that best chance of winning, then it is a no brianer to me.
As far as school districts creating new teams to accomodate individuals with disabilities. I'm not sure how that would work logistically. I would guess that school districts may need to consolidate student bodies to field a team, something that we have done here in Cudahy with St Francis for certain athletic teams.
I've talked in the past about community and this is no different. All 3 of my kids are contributing members of their school community. Each has a unique gift to share within the school community and we all must encourage all students to share their gifts. You never know if the next scientific breakthrough, great American novel or next great Olympic athlete is going to come from the desks in the Cudahy School system. We can not short change those who may appear different or we don't think that they have the ability to provide some of that greatness just because they may need a reasonable accomodation. For they too are contributors to our community.