LANSING — The Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of representative took the exceptional step May 4 of jointly signing a letter of support in the Eric Dompierre case, asking that the Michigan High School Athletic Association quickly adopt a new policy that would permit students with disabilities to play sports in their senior year in certain specific and limited circumstances — just as 23 others states have done.
Dean Dompierre, founder of Let ‘Em Play, and the father of Eric Dompierre, an Ishpeming football player, took his case to the state level in hopes that his son, who has Downs Syndrome, could play football as a 19- old year. He stated “that he is so grateful that in a time when there so often a wide political divide, legislative leaders came together to take this extraordinary action and issue a call to action asking that the Association adopt a fair and equitable rule that would permit studentathletes like Eric to play in their senior year. Eric and I are grateful to the leaders in both the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House, and we look forward to the MHSAA rising to the challenge that the legislative leaders put before them to craft a fair, sensible and compassionate policy that balances the integrity of high school athletics with the special needs of these students.”
On Monday, the MHSAA released the following: The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, at its Spring meeting which concluded here today, approved a proposal for a vote by member schools which would change the organization’s Constitution to allow for a waiver of its maximum age limitation under narrowly defined circumstances.
Ballots will be mailed this week. Schools have two weeks to return the ballots, which must be signed by the school principal and superintendent.The MHSAA will post the wording of the proposal on its website not later than May 14.
The Representative Council is the 19-member legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities; and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee. The Council meets three times annually — in early December, late March, and early May — to act on proposals for its eligibility rules, sports in which the Association sponsors post-season tournaments, and operational matters.
Currently under MHSAA rules, a student who turns 19 prior to Sept. 1 of a school year is not eligible for interscholastic athletics. Michigan is one of approximately 40 states which use this maximum or have a younger maximum age limit. The MHSAA’s Constitution, which can only be changed by a two-thirds vote of member schools, does not allow the maximum age rule to be waived. Michigan is in the majority of states which do not allow waiver of the rule.
“We recognize that member schools have preferred a bright line for the maximum age rule,” said MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts. “We have prepared for a vote of the membership what we believe is the best alternative — better for Michigan than any proposal we have reviewed from other sources.
“The Representative Council does not advance proposals it does not want the membership to support, and an affirmative vote by schools is being specifically requested on this proposal.”
Based on member school input, the Council previously rejected proposals from the same member school district for a constitutional vote in 2010 and 2011. The school district did not exercise its option to launch its own petition drive of member schools; nor did it avail itself of an athletic eligibility advancement provision in the MHSAA Handbook which allows for over-aged students to have four years of high school participation with their age group. — L.P.