Eric Dompierre has Down syndrome and plays high school football and basketball
A Michigan school rule would prevent him from playing his senior year because of his age
Schools are expected to vote on a proposal that would allow for a waiver under certain circumstances
A Michigan high school student athlete with Down syndrome might get to keep playing sports during his senior year despite his age.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association said Monday that its representative council had approved a proposal for a vote by member schools that would change the group’s constitution to allow for a waiver of its maximum age limit under “narrowly defined” circumstances.
Under current rules, students who turn 19 before September 1 are not allowed to compete. The rule is intended to prevent the possibility of injury or competitive advantage from an older, more developed athlete playing against younger students.
Eric Dompierre, the Michigan student with Down syndrome, turned 19 in January. He was held back in kindergarten because of his disability.
The athletic association did not mention Dompierre by name, but it released a statement that was clearly meant to deflect criticism over the way it has handled the question of his participation.
Ballots will be mailed this week, the athletic association said, and schools will have two weeks to return them.
“The representative council does not advance proposals it does not want the membership to support, and an affirmative vote by schools is being specifically requested on this proposal,” it said.
The specific wording of the proposal was not immediately available. It is expected to be posted on the group’s website no later than May 14. A two-thirds majority is required to change the organization’s constitution.
Dompierre has played sports with other children in Ishpeming, Michigan, since he was in elementary school.
“We didn’t know how far he’d go, how many coaches would keep him on the team,” said Dean Dompierre, Eric’s father.
When he got to high school, Dompierre was invited to keep playing. Now a junior, he is on the Ishpeming High School football and basketball teams. He attends every practice and works out with the other players and sometimes plays a few minutes at the end of the game.
During this season’s basketball playoffs, Dompierre brought the house down. After maintaining a nice lead, the team put Dompierre in the game and he hit a three-point shot against rival Negaunee High School.
“I was on the left side behind the three-point line and they passed me the ball,” Dompierre said, smiling as he recounted the game. “I heard the fans, including my mom crying.”
Dompierre’s father was in the stands with his camera and captured the amazing reaction.
“I videotaped the crowd on the other side and it was made up of mostly Negaunee fans, including their student section, and they were all on their feet cheering for Eric.”
The same thing happened when Dompierre kicked his first extra point for the football team toward the end of a game two years ago.
“I was amazed that he even had the opportunity to kick, and then when he did it, I thought woo-hoo! And then watching the kids react, they carried him off the field; it was just one of the best moments,” recalls Eric’s mother, Jill Dompierre.
For the past two years, the Dompierres, with the support of the Ishpeming School District, have tried to get the rule changed so Dompierre can play during his senior year.
“The rule is 100 years old. We’ve come a long way in those 100 years in this country in the way that we involve and include people with disabilities. And I think it’s time that the rule catches up with that,” said Dean Dompierre.
CNN’s Paul Caron and Ted Rowlands contributed to this report.