NORMAN — It’s has become the trend in high school sports to start giving kids with disabilities a chance to compete in actual games or at least take part in ceremonial type plays where they allow a player to live out their dream of scoring a touchdown or making a basket.
However, for Eric Dompierre, that dream may no longer be able to come true. Dompierre attends high school in Michigan and has Down syndrome. Because of the disability, he stated school late and will turn 20 by the time football and basketball season rolls around next school year.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) has a rule that will not allow anyone over the age of 19 to compete in high school athletics. The association has refused to change the rule, which has Dompierre’s father confused.
“Eric is who he is today because of sports,” said Dean Dompierre. “He’s never let the fact that he has a handicap be the handicap. He’s as responsible and as physically fit as he is because he’s been able to participate in athletics. I would hate to see that taken away from him. Eric has also been an inspiration to our entire community. I watch him play when he’s on the field or on the court, but I also spend a lot of time watching the crowd because it’s heartwarming to see the unconditional support that they give him.”
Dean Dompierre is not giving up. He started a petition on Change.org that is asking the MHSAA to change their rules, and allow students who may have started school later due to physical or intellectual disabilities, to play a full four years of high school sports. This rule change would put Michigan in line with 23 other states, including neighboring Ohio, that allow student athletes who have experienced a hardship due to intellectual or physical disabilities early in life to play for four years in high school.
“Dean’s campaign on Change.org has really struck a chord with parents, students, teachers and sports fans, who all want to see Eric play sports during his senior year of high school,” said Mike Jones, Deputy Campaign Director for Change.org. “As thousands mobilize behind his father’s petition, Eric has become an inspiration to student athletes, both in his community and across the country.”
Eric has already had a shining moment when he hit a 3-pointer during a game this year. He was awarded the play of the week by a local TV station in Michigan.
But he wants to finish out what he started. To play football and basketball in his senior year like any other high school athlete.
“Eric has the support of his basketball coach, his football coach, all of his teammates, and even administrators at his high school,” Dean Dompierre said. “Even our high school rivals support Eric. When he’s in the game and makes a basket or kicks an extra point, the crowd just goes wild, and everyone leaves the gym understanding what high school sports is really all about.”