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Disabled Students -- Lower Expectations?

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 3

By Taylor Ramsey

I understand the U.S. Department of Education is directing schools to give disabled students the right to play. They want schools to include students with disabilities in sports programs and/or provide alternatives. According to an article by the Associated Press “schools would be required to make reasonable modifications for students with disabilities or create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing as mainstream programs.” The article also says officials suggest schools cannot exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates.

Before I go further and create a picture of me as a very cold-hearted person I would like to say here that I do support disabled students, no matter their interests. My very first real job was working for the Easter Seal Society at a summer camp in the local mountains above southern California. I learned to understand disabilities and I learned that some of the strongest and most inspirational persons in our society are the very people we refer to as disabled.

In my opinion, this new directive is a classic example of more “feel good” legislation and it is completely worthless and a waste of time. I have referred to other feel good legislation as worthless and a waste of time in the past because … it is. There is nothing keeping disabled students from competing in sports programs just as there is nothing keeping non-disabled students from competing for those same limited spots.

If I am a high school coach my goal is to win all the games on my schedule and to do that I need the best players available for each position. Think about the coach who placed baseball pitcher, Jim Abbott, on his team to reach his goal. Jim Abbott went on to play major league baseball from 1989 to 1999 with one hand!

Obviously you would think his high school coach did not discriminate because Mr. Abbott had only one hand. However, the coach did discriminate when you think about it. He discriminated against players with two hands who, in his opinion, could not help the team as well as the one-handed player.

This may sound ridiculous, but this feel good legislation could lead people who did not make their high school team to file court papers complaining that they were discriminated against because their physical abilities limited their opportunity to play on the varsity baseball team. Should the school create a parallel program for anyone who was not good enough to “make” their school’s varsity team? Maybe non-disabled athletes fighting for spots on teams should ask the government to create programs for them based on the fact that disabled athletes displaced them.

Besides Jim Abbott, remember Tom Dempsey who played professional football as a kicker despite being born with no toes on his kicking foot. Consider Kyle Maynard who went 50-0 as a high school varsity wrestler despite having no legs or arms. Recently Natalie du Toit from South Africa executed a strong performance representing her country at the Beijing Olympics missing most of her left leg? Anthony Robles was born with only one leg, but several years ago he was one of the top Division 1 wrestlers in the country. I doubt these athletes mentioned above would have considered lower expectations or a “parallel” program instead of competing at the highest levels possible.

Instead of our government representatives attempting to make everything fair and equal for all of us they should concentrate on the real concerns our constitution requires. It is not up to our government to make life fair. I can’t imagine depending on some elected, and some not so very bright representatives, determining what is and is not fair for all of us. No one can make life fair. We as citizens should know that life in America provides a chance to compete and use our God-given gifts to pursue happiness and achieve all we set out to accomplish.

Life is not evenhanded and part of being a strong and responsible person is to understand how to deal with real life and what it dishes out … that is part of becoming mature. Being mature does not include asking the government to make “all” things on par with my neighbors.

No matter my physical and mental capacities, dealing with and adjusting to life is up to me.