Illinois high school sports regulator wins disability lawsuit
A Northern District court has ruled in favor of Illinois' top high school athletic governing body in a lawsuit filed by the parents of a student-athlete.
In a summary judgment issued on July 13, John Tharp determined that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), which oversees all high school competition in the state, is not required to change its qualifying times for track and field for athletes with physical disabilities or establish a para-ambulatory division in its 5K Road Race.
“Rulings like this can be misconstrued as the IHSA limiting opportunities for students, when the opposite is really happening,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said on the organization’s website. "The IHSA, and several, committees, have and will continue to consider these requests and others like it. However, as a membership organization, we need to be able to go through our processes and procedures to implement changes as opposed to being forced via litigation.”
The IHSA created a separate division for disabled student-athletes in 2012 as part of a pilot program that ran from 2012 to 2013 and offered students the chance to compete in cross-country, bowling, swimming and track and field.
After the initial program, the organization decided to continue with the separate division as long as interest and participation numbers were maintained.
Prior to the pilot program, the IHSA had already been hosting the wheelchair basketball tournament alongside the boys basketball state finals.
“I believe that the IHSA’s track record speaks for itself in regard to creating additional opportunities for all student-athletes,” Anderson said on the website. “It remains important that we be able to follow the rules set forth in our constitution when making changes. We appreciate (the) ruling.”
The IHSA concluded its inaugural Road Race at Heartland College in June. The race included a wheelchair division and was established following low participation numbers in cross-country among disabled athletes.
It also offers combined track and field teams, which include athletes with disabilities. Teams accumulate points as a whole per event. Athletes with disabilities compete in their own division and with their own scoring standards. Those points are then included with the entire team’s, and a winner is declared.
For the first time, a combined team state champion was crowned at the 2016 girls track and field state finals, with Glenbard West taking the title.
“I think the Road Race epitomizes our commitment to expanding opportunities,” Anderson said on the website. “After some initial setbacks we stayed the course and worked to make the race happen. We are proud of the inaugural event and will work to make it bigger and better. We will also continue to encourage and support ambulatory athletes in their participation in the IHSA programs alongside their able-bodied teammates.”
The Special Olympics of Illinois named the IHSA as the Outstanding Organization of the Year in June.
“I really believe that our efforts speak for themselves and we certainly aren’t done,” Anderson said on the website. “Ultimately high school sports are about the value of participation, not necessarily state championship participation. I think Illinoisans should be proud of all the opportunities the IHSA offers high school students, especially when comparing to other states around the country. We were the first to hold a wheelchair basketball tournament and are among the few state associations to conduct a swimming state final for athletes with disabilities. We will keep working on behalf of our students to break new ground.”
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