Today the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced plans to launch a state finals pilot program in cross country, bowling, swimming and diving, and track and field for student-athletes with disabilities, an initiative that builds on years of accommodations for student-athletes with disabilities in regular and post-season competitions.
The pilot program supplements the measures already taken by the IHSA that accommodate athletes with prosthetic limbs, athletes in wheelchairs, athletes with visual or hearing impairments, and athletes with paralysis who compete today in sports like basketball, gymnastics, golf, bowling, swimming, track and field, and cross country.
“We’ve been actively engaged, listening to stakeholders, advocacy groups, parents, student-athletes and others to determine how to enhance opportunities for our student-athletes, all of our student-athletes,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “We are confident that by working together, we will help raise awareness about the abilities of people with disabilities and ultimately more parents, coaches and physical education teachers will encourage athletics for students with disabilities.”
The program comes at the recommendation of a six-member ad-hoc committee comprised of school administrators who represent different IHSA Board Divisions. The committee has been studying the issue since its formation early this year.
According to Hickman, the IHSA will launch an initial two-year pilot that will begin immediately. The program will enable the IHSA to continue evaluating statewide interest and participation among student-athletes with disabilities, while also giving student-athletes with disabilities additional opportunities to compete in parallel events at IHSA state finals beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.
“By piloting separate, high-profile events for our student-athletes with disabilities, we hope to spur more interest statewide,” Hickman added. “As more and more student-athletes participate in our programs, and as they start to do so at younger ages, the level of competition naturally rises, giving way to more meaningful experiences for our athletes.”
“I love to play golf, and the IHSA has given me the opportunity to train and compete alongside my teammates,” said Matthew Juskie a non-sighted golfer from Lincoln-Way High School in Frankfort who has been permitted a spotter to accompany him at IHSA golf competitions. “Not only am I grateful to have that opportunity, but I’m also very glad that the IHSA is taking steps to make other student-athletes aware that these kind of opportunities are out there for anyone who wants to work hard and compete.”
The IHSA will partner with advocates and various regional and community-based agencies that work with student-athletes with disabilities, and they will study programs that have been implemented by other states to determine best practices for facilitating such events.