Student Well-Being

Student-Athlete With Down Syndrome May Retain Athletic Eligibility

By Bryan Toporek — May 10, 2012 2 min read
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Eric Dompierre, a 19-year-old at Ishpeming (Mich.) High School who has Down syndrome, may be able to participate in school sports his senior year after all.

Currently, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) bans any student from participating in school sports if they’ve turned 19 before Sept. 1. It’s the organization’s only rule that isn’t subject to waiver under the MHSAA constitution, according to its website.

Dompierre, a rising senior who plays both football and basketball for his school, turned 19 in January, and has been battling for his athletic eligibility ever since. He was allowed to finish out the year, under MHSAA rules, but wouldn’t be eligible for his senior year, barring a change to the constitution.

Lo and behold, after the case gained national media attention over the past few weeks, the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) approved a proposal Monday to allow member schools to vote on changing the constitution to allow for flexibility with the maximum age requirement, under “narrowly defined circumstances.”

The ballots were mailed out to schools this week, and the MHSAA must have the full proposal posted on its website by this coming Monday, May 14.

“We recognize that member schools have preferred a bright line for the maximum age rule,” said MHSAA Executive Director John E. Roberts in a statement. “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,” he continued.

Dean Dompierre, Eric’s father, reacted positively on hearing the news that the MHSAA sent the proposed change to member schools for a vote.

“While we remain anxious to see the specifics of the proposal, we are hopeful that it will be fair to Eric and the students he represents, while at the same time ensuring that the integrity of high school sports remains strong,” Dean said in a statement on the website set up to support Eric’s cause.

Dean helped gather 92,000+ signatures on an online petition in support of Eric being allowed to play school sports during his senior year.

Michigan is one of roughly 40 states to have an age limit of 19 for school sports (some states’ limits are even lower), according to the MHSAA. These limits aim to protect younger student-athletes from competing against significantly older, more-developed children. Of the states with an age limit, 23 allow waivers under certain circumstances, according to the Dompierre family.

The MHSAA will announce the results of the member school vote no later than May 31, according to the organization’s website, and will be making no further comments about Dompierre’s case until then.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.