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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I'm always impressed when the wheelchair athletes start at the Boilermaker, and without fail I think to my self that I hope I'd have the spirit to do that if I found myself in their situation. Athletes are athletes as much by self-definition as anything else, which is why I believe I still qualify. Even so, my first reaction when I heard about the high school girl who is suing to compete on the track with non-wheelchair athletes, was to have some doubts. On the track, at least, I think we are kind of talking about events that are different enough for there to be an legitimate question, at least as a threshold issue.

Upon consideration, I think that she should probably prevail, but it is a closer call than it might appear on first blush. Ms. McFadden is mostly obliged to compete on the track alone, and this is antithetical to the mainstreaming rational that underlies the ADA. She is not asking to be scored against the runners-- she just wants to be on the track at the same time as the other athletes. Particularly in the context of high school athletics, this does not seem to me to be an unreasonable accommodation. Her mother nails it: "High school sports is "not about winning or losing, it's about learning a whole lot of other things," Deborah McFadden said. "Part of it is being with your friends. When you have a disability, it sometimes isolates you."

I wish more people understood that about scholastic sports. I often think that my schoolboy athletic career prepared me more for the rest of my life than any other single thing I did in school-- and I hope that Ms. McFadden gets the same opportunity.

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