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December 12, 2007

How would you integrate students with disabilities into Maryland athletics?

While Nancy S. Grasmick's fate garnered a majority of the ink in today’s paper, the State Board of Education made other news when it recommended yesterday that school systems adopt a policy that would allow students with disabilities to try out for athletic teams. In addition, the board also wants to amend the Code of Maryland Regulations so that school systems can form teams made up of students with disabilities when there are low levels of participation.

I interviewed Lauren Young, director of litigation at the Maryland Disability Law Center, who said that the board needs to do more to increase access for students with disabilities. Read more of the story here.

Do you agree with Young? If you were on the board, how would you handle this topic?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Trends


Is there anything preventing a disabled kid from trying out now? If a kid who can't walk wants to go out for basketball, he can try out and get cut - just like I got cut because I can't jump.

I do like the second suggestion, because I don't see these kids any differently than kids who play hockey or polo, or any other sport that isn't popular enough to field teams. If there are 10 kids in Baltimore County who want to play wheelchair basketball, let them form a varsity team and play the kids from Harford County or whatever.

What would be insane, however, is making the basketball team take a kid in a wheelchair, a la the Tatyana McFadden situation.

Marc Nelson Jr.,

Although there is nothing preventing a student with disabilities from trying out for a team, there were only a handful of school system that had any type of policy that dealt with this issue.
I think that was one of the purposes of this.
Some argued that many students with disabilities had no idea that they had access to team sports. This recent action by the board should clear up some of that.
One of the biggest things that was not addressed yesterday was the whole feasability aspect. In order to accomodate athletes with disabilities there will inevitably have to be some type of changes to current procedures.
Team buses will need to be wheelchair accessible. Better scheduling will also be required if a school fields an additional team comprised of students with disabilities. They have to practice too.
I expect that the state board will hear many of these points echoed in the coming months of public response.

I applaud this first effort by the State Board of Education. If inclusion in the classroom is any predictor, then integrating sports teams will be a long time coming, however. So far, inclusion in the classroom has not resulted in widespread acceptance of kids with disabilities by either their non-disabled peers or by regular education teachers (as opposed to special education teachers). In fact, inclusion in the regular education classroom has not been the focus of an affirmative outreach campaign* in the schools which probably has the indirect effect of bolstering bias against kids with disabilities.

The State Board should not leave it up to individual county school districts to choose how and when integrating kids with disabilities into varsity sports is achieved. School system superintendents may feel pressure to hinder this process from budget constraints or from personal or systemic bias. Compare this issue to voting rights - at some point the FBI and the Justice Dept. had to intervene to make sure that local municipalities and states didn't continue to subvert the intent of the law.

I do take exception to the Board's amending COMAR to allow sports with low participation to field teams solely with kids with disabilities. That's like throwing a bone to kids with disabilities. "Here, this is so boring or stupid, you guys can have it all to yourselves." Just because a child has a disability doesn't mean he or she is stupid or out of touch. Kids with disabilities respond to peer pressure, too. If no one wants to participate in a certain sport, why not retire it altogether and find an interesting alternative?

I also am concerned about how to increase the participation of kids with cognitive disabilities in varsity sports. So far, the discussion seems limited to including kids with physical disabilities.

Finally,I'd like to suggest that this would be a great time to change the emphasis from competition to good sportsmanship in varsity and rec. center sports. How many kids have a future in professional sports, anyway?

*suggested elsewhere by Lauren Young in regards to recruiting kids with disabilities for varsity sports

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