Michigan sports officials try to understand new federal rule opening the door to disabled athletes

Jan 27, 2013

Michigan high school sports officials are trying to figure out how to implement a new federal rule that opens sports programs to students with disabilities.

More than 300,000 students take part in high school sports in Michigan.   

A small number are disabled.

But the number of disabled students playing high school sports will likely increase.

That's because the federal government has decreed that handicapped students must be given a fair shot to make traditional sports teams, or schools must create new programs for them.

“There’s a lot of questions right now that need to be answered for the association, certainly at the local level…for schools,” says Michigan High School Athletic Association spokesman John Johnson. He says the eventual effect of the new rule is unclear.

Supporters say the new rule may do for disabled athletes what Title IX did for female athletes.  Passed in 1972, the law states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.    

Title IX is credited with expanding the opportunity for women to participate in sports, through expanding athletic programs, from primary school through college.    

Some critics complain the expansion of women’s athletic opportunity has hurt male sports, as institutions cut funding to less popular male sports.  Defenders of Title IX point out that male sports continue to receive more financial support than female sports.