The Associated Press (AP) reports on Minnesota Public Radio News that as the federal government pushes schools to include more disabled students in sports, Minnesota offers a map for how to do it and a look at the challenges that come along the way. What started 40 years ago as a game of wheelchair floor hockey among friends has grown into a thriving statewide league that offers four sports. Disabled students can earn letters and win state championships.
“I would say we’re the model state,” said Jim Muckenhirn, who runs the Minnesota Adapted Athletics Association. “It’s a matter of taking what we’ve already done” and creating similar programs in other states.
Parents, coaches, and administrators pushed for years to get the state to recognize adapted athletics. In 1992, the Minnesota State High School League took charge. It has separate divisions for athletes with physical and cognitive disabilities. Participation has more than doubled since 1994 – up to 1,700 registrations last season.
Over the past two decades, Minnesota officials have learned how to modify sports for disabled athletes to keep games fair yet competitive, like moving all games indoors (so students on wheels can play) and instituting a no-running rule (to minimize the advantage of more mobile athletes).
They have also confronted big challenges, mostly involving cost. In St. Paul public schools, for example, about 3% of students played an adapted sport last year, but the adapted sports budget consumed more than 10% of the overall athletics budget.
Teams with players in wheelchairs have to hire buses with lifts. And because many schools have to combine to field enough players for a team, they need several buses to get players to and from practices and games. Because transportation costs are far worse in rural areas, where having fewer disabled students means traveling longer distances, almost all of Minnesota’s adapted sports teams are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. To cut costs, some schools play sharply limited schedules.
Source: Minnesota Public Radio News, 2/1/13, By Kyle Potter (AP)
[Editor's Note: In January 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in USA Today, which reported that the United States Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has sent a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) to school officials across the country informing school districts that they must give disabled students equal access to extracurricular athletics. The DCL, issued by Seth Galanter, ED’s Acting Assistant Secretary for OCR, states schools should provide “reasonable modifications” to allow disabled students to participate – for instance, providing a deaf track athlete with a flashing light that goes off simultaneously with the starter pistol that others hear. The Clips summary also contains a link to OCR's DCL.]