Shelby: Seventeen-year-old Will Fahey’s sport of choice is football.
Will Fahey: It’s my game, you know?
For high schooler Kevin Henderson, it is wrestling.
Kevin Henderson: I can do something that not many other people can do with my disability.
Shelby: What sets these two athletes apart from their teammates is both have cerebral palsy, a brain and neurological disorder that can severely limit muscle movement. People with the condition often rely on a wheelchair because walking can be very painful. Yet these young men refuse to let their physical setbacks keep them out of sports.
Will: The first coach didn’t even want me to play. But you know what? I still battled through it.
Kevin Pelletier: If every one of the wrestler in the state of Maine had Kevin’s spirit, they’d all be state champions.
Shelby: Proof that disabled students can compete with just as much dedication and drive, athletes like Will and Kevin have helped pave the way for others with disabilities.
Last Friday, the education department issued a ruling that says disabled students must be allowed to join a sports team.
In the past, federal laws have prohibited discrimination in the classroom by requiring states to provide free public education to students with disabilities. But now this new change expands rights outside of the classroom too, saying that access to interscholastic, intramural and intercollegiate athletics is a right.
The ruling, which requires school districts to make changes or create parallel athletic programs for disabled students, has some worried it could affect athletic budgets and even force schools to cut sport programs. But Education Secretary Arne Duncan says it offers disabled students an equal opportunity to ‘benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court.’ Something many activists, athletes, and coaches agree with.
Pelletier: For him to be out here wrestling along with the other kids that are doing what they’re doing, it’s something to say for all the other kids that wanted to join but didn’t because they didn’t feel like it. You know, Kevin’s here everyday.
Shelby: And so is Will. Last fall, all of his hard work paid off when his coaches agreed to let him take the first snap of the team’s final home game.
Will: It was great! It’s, you know, my passion. My dad did it in high school. And you know, I follow my idols. It’s the right fit for me, playing football.
John Brown: The fact that he just loves football, loves being part of what we do, and knowing that he’s out there watching everyday the other kids being able to play. You know, we said, ‘you know, he needs to get a taste of this.’ The problem is now he wants to be in every game!
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.