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Teen athlete says he was cut from team due to disability

By John Couwels, CNN
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Baseball amputee says he's discriminated
  • Anthony Burruto, 16, was cut from his high school team
  • Burruto was once featured on the cover of ESPN magazine
  • Burruto, who has two prosthetic legs, says his coach cited his disability as the reason
  • School rep says coach denies mentioning disability; 22 students didn't make the team

Orlando (CNN) -- Like most kids, Anthony Burruto started playing baseball in community Little League, ultimately joining the high school team.

Born with a birth defect, Burruto, 16, had to have both legs amputated below the knee shortly after he was born. He has played baseball since he was 8, thanks to prosthetic legs.

"These legs are my life. This is how I walk every day," he says with pride. "Without these, I'm in a wheelchair, and I don't walk, and I'm never in a wheelchair."

But after completing a third season on his school's fall team, the teenager says he was shocked to be cut from the spring squad.

In disbelief, he told his mother on the way home from tryouts, "I'm cut, Mom, he cut me."

The way it's supposed to work, only the most talented make the team. But Burruto's family believes Anthony was cut because of his disability.

His mother, Diane Burruto, says, "Playing baseball is everything. Baseball is what he does, he loves it -- he excels at it. He puts everything into it."

Originally from New York, Anthony Burruto moved with his family to Orlando when he was 10. A huge New York Yankees fan, he played in the city's Little League. He began pitching on the big field in an all-star league at 13 and pitched against a varsity team at 14.

ESPN featured Burruto on the cover of its magazine as part of its series on athletes who use prosthetics. As a freshman the following year, Burruto made the fall baseball team at Dr. Phillips High School, which has a reputation for its highly competitive sports program.

That year his parents allowed the teen, after receiving good grades, to get a tattoo on his arm that reads, "Life threw me a curve ball. So I threw one back."

Anthony, who boasts an 80 mph fast ball, played three seasons at Dr. Phillips. After finishing up on the fall team his sophomore year, he said he was devastated to be cut from the spring team following tryouts.

The next day at school, he said coach Mike Bradley told him he was cut because of the difficulty he'd have covering bunts, with his disability.

At first, Diane Burruto said she thought her son was kidding about not making the team.

"What did he do wrong?" she asked, recalling her phone conversation with the coach. "He was sorry. ... he said the bunting was an issue."

Bradley referred all questions to the Orange County Public Schools. A spokeswoman for the school system said the coach denies saying anything about Anthony Burruto's disability.

"No, he never used the word disabled about being on the team in the conversation with Anthony," spokeswoman Kathy Marsh said.

Bradley also told the spokeswoman no conversations occurred regarding bunting since it was not part of the tryout.

Anthony and his mother say Bradley discussed bunting with them both.

"I think coach Bradley, he wasn't looking at my ability, he was looking at my disability," Anthony Burruto said. "I feel I've been discriminated (against), honestly I do."

Anthony's mother said she is not asking for special privileges but she said she believes there's a bias against her son.

"I will continue to fight and I want Anthony to play baseball because Dr. Phillips is not going to make or break him," she said.

In a written statement, another spokesman for the Orange County Public Schools said Burruto was treated like any other player.

"Anthony was given the same opportunity as all other students to try out for the Dr. Phillips High School baseball teams," spokesman Dylan Thomas said in the statement. "He was among 63 student athletes who were evaluated for a position on either the varsity or junior varsity squads. With only 40 roster spots, Anthony and 22 other students did not make either team. As a sophomore, Anthony has the chance to vie for a position on a school team again next year and we hope he will."

The young Burruto said he would not try out for the high school team again with the same coach. He plans to try out for an all-star league over the summer.

"I have never given up in my life -- never -- and I always strive for the best," he said. "I have always put 110% into everything I've done. I think I would be a good person to be on a team."