The Michigan High School Athletic Association has barred 19 year-old Eric Dompierre from playing with his basketball team because the rules prohibit anyone from playing if they are over 19 years old. This is (not really) a story about discrimination against those with Down Syndrome. It is a story about a strictly enforced rule with unfortunate consequences.
It is a little bit about discriminating against a kid with Down Syndrome, though, because Dompierre, due to his disability, was delayed in starting school as a child. Such a delay is fairly commonplace for a condition that is, by definition, a delay in physical and intellectual development. Michigan is right in the middle with the rest of the country on this issue it seems, as almost half the states make allowances for disabled students to play past similar age restrictions. So, while it's obviously not an outright discrimination of a protected class of citizens, The rule's enforcement has the effect of one.
"He gets a lot of his confidence from the fact that he gets in the games, and he has a lot of support, not only from people here in Ishpeming, but people from all over the area are supportive of him. If he's told that he's not allowed to play anymore, I think he's going to lose a lot of that confidence. And that's been a key to his development," said Eric's dad, Dean Dompierre.
Dompierre's family and his high school, Ishpeming, have submitted two rules revision proposals to the Michigan High School Athletic Association. The MHSAA has coldly denied both, determining "there should be no change to the MHSAA constitution." Ishpeming will make one last ditch to find a way to let Eric to play in his senior year.
"In the districts against Negaunee, he got in right off the bench. He buried a shot, nothing but net, and that place went crazy. As a coach, you couldn't ask for more. It's such a good feeling. There's things that happen in life and everything, and that's going to be one of the top moments for sure," said Ishpeming Varsity Basketball coach Bob Salisbury.
Obviously rules are rules, and we can't start carving out exceptions for just anything that strikes us as sympathetic on a given day, but this is another one of those times when the letter of the law does not jibe with the spirit of the law. The letter should serve the spirit, not the other way around. Or at the very least, provide a better response than "there should be no change."