IHSA plans for student athletes with disabilities

By Nader Ihmoud

Earlier this year, the Illinois High School Association’s Board of Directors created the Ad Hoc Committee to review increasing participation opportunities for student athletes with disabilities after the board received a letter requesting such a change from one of its member schools.

According to Matt Troha, assistant executive director of the IHSA, the committee will bring its recommendations to the board, which will decide what to accept and implement.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on it, but for the board to act on it that quickly and put together a committee is certainly something that shows that it’s important to them,” Troha said.

The Ad Hoc Committee represents each of the IHSA’s seven board divisions: Marty Bee, athletic director at Naperville Central High School; Mike Curtin, associate athletic director at Oak Park (Fenwick) High School; Judy Fitzgerald, principal at Moweaqua (Central A&M) High School; Kathy Hasson, principal at Taylor Ridge (Rockridge) High School; Bill Hook, principal at Chicago Agricultural Science High School; Bill Lamkey, principal at Riverton High School; and Steve Smith, principal at Marion High School.

According to the IHSA press release, there are already sports opportunities in place for student athletes with disabilities, such as basketball, gymnastics, golf, bowling, swimming, track and field and cross-country.

Matthew Juskie, a visually impaired golfer at Lincoln Way North High School in Frankfort, Ill., was permitted a spotter to accompany him at IHSA golf competitions.

“Playing golf on my team with my teammates is a huge part of my high school experience that I will never forget,” Juskie said in the press release.

Although some opportunities exist for student athletes with disabilities, Mike Frogley, head coach of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign men’s wheelchair basketball team, said he thinks implementing more chances for them will be an advantage for all students.

“All students benefit by seeing the participation in sport of individuals who have disabilities because what I think we begin to learn and see in that involvement is how to value all people,” Frogley said.

Instead of students looking at their peers and thinking about what they cannot do, he said they will begin to see each other for what they can do. Frogley said he believes the IHSA understands the “importance of co-curricular activities, especially athletics, can play in the role of the lives of all students.” He pointed out that athletics teaches discipline, responsibility, teamwork and allows the individual’s self-esteem to grow.

According to the press release, the committee is expected to present its recommendations during the Board of Directors meeting June 11.