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Age 19 Rules: Fair Play or Discrimination?

12/28/08
by Wrightslaw

My daughter is hearing impaired and was retained because of her disability. She played basketball in middle school until age 15 when the athletic association notified her that she was ineligible to play because of her age.

Although she wants to play basketball in high school, she will only be eligible in 9th and 10th grades. She is being penalized because of her disability and I don’t think it’s fair. Is this legal?  


No, it’s not fair and some courts have found that this is discrimination.

Several years ago, there was a case in WV – a deaf or severely hearing impaired boy went away to a residential program for a year. When he came home, he returned to public school and played sports. He was a year older than his classmates which wasn’t a problem until his senior year. The school said he couldn’t play football because he was too old. The attorney who represented him claimed that this was discrimination under Section 504 and also violated the West Virginia Human Rights statute. They won.

You’ll also find a discussion of the age nineteen rule and other issues in Baisden v. WV Secondary Schools Activities Commission at  
http://www.state.wv.us/WVSCA/docs/spring02/30317.htm

The Court held … 

“Because age alone does not determine one’s qualifications for interscholastic sports competition and discrimination against exceptional students should be avoided where a reasonable accommodation of disabilities may be made, the otherwise salutary age nineteen rule, set forth in West Virginia Code of State Regulations § 127-2-4.1, may be waived. Waiver should be granted where a student’s disabilities have delayed his progression through the education process and it is shown that the participation of the student requesting a waiver will not materially alter the quality of the interscholastic sports competition involved.”

In so many cases, parents are told something by a school authority figure and believe it. Later, when they find out that the person was misinformed, it’s too late to fix the problem.

You need to do some independent research on your own. You need to know the case law in your state – if there have been similar cases and what the outcome was. 

1. Use the internet to find information about the current status of the policies or regulations about eligibility for sports and age.

2. Is the athletic association a state or national organization? Write a letter and request the rules for a child this age, accommodations for children with disabilities. Ask for a written copy of their policies.

3. Read “Leveling the Playing Field or Leveling the Players?” (http://www.ldonline.org/article/610)

This issue affects many kids. Don’t hesitate to share your research and what you learn with others – school personnel and parents. 

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Morning 01/26/12 at 12:35 pm

    Grades —

    I agree that for many kids sports help them feel typical and many excel in such. Such is the case for my dyslexic child. But, I am shocked that some parents would want grade exceptions made to play sports for child with an IEP. I would never allow my child to use such as an excuse. That will do him a disservice and will not garner respect from teammates who have to earn their grades to play. If your child is struggling, work with the case manager and teachers–review accomodations, IEP goals. I have done such for my child. It does work. Playing sports motivates my child to earn good grades and to advocate for himself. This allows for maturity for the child and a way to transition to other sports, college, etc, I can only speak from viewpoint as my child is dyslexic, athletic and fully included in academics.

  • 2 Paula 02/24/11 at 11:28 am

    My Granddaughter tore her acl and menisc playing basketball for the school and had to have surgery. She is a cheerleader, couldn’t try out for the coming year, will try out when the doctor releases. Our biggest concern is they will not let her go to camp or be apart of any of the activities this year. It is her sr. year and she also needs to learn the cheers for when she does try out. .It doesnt cost the school, the parents pay. She has been a cheerleader since the 7th grade. Is this a part of this Act of is there another section or act we need to read. Thanks for any help you can give us.

  • 3 Melissa 10/05/10 at 8:55 am

    I need help in the case with my 16 year old. He is being denied to play sports in his home school because of the athletic association.Please if someone could help us. He lives for his sport and I feel he has the right to engage in his sport in the public school setting. He has just brought his GPA up to a 2.1. His sport was the motivation. I have not even told him . For fear he will give up. Please help please!!!

    Thank you in advance Melissa (in Florida)

  • 4 Ettie 07/13/10 at 2:09 pm

    I also have questions about the age and grade issues connected to participation in sports. My child entering Soph in high school has ADHD/OCD/TS, and is 1 year older than peers in same–grades are not always great either. Has anyone tried to get an exemption from 2.0 grade requirements for CA state’s CIF rules and won? How about successfull, continued team participation (as a PLAYER) despite lower than 2.0 grades and over 18 years of age as a Senior? I’ve been told by district that CA’s CIF rules are in stone (i.e. file a lawsuit if you think you can win it). Right now she is passing (higher than 2.0 grades), but Soph year is supposed to be harder academically–has many accommodations now but gets discouraged and quits trying academically. Team is everything to her; my worry is it all halts Soph year due to grades. Any advice?

  • 5 Debbie Metz 02/02/10 at 9:29 am

    I have an inclusion sports program for children with disabilities. I am seeking funding for an adaptive playgound in our community. http://www.kylesportsforspecialneedsmsc.com

  • 6 Debbie 01/04/09 at 7:44 pm

    A related issue facing many families is ineligibility due to failing grades. Many students with disabilities would love to play sports. Sometimes that is an area where they can be most “typical”. Yet they are denied access to teams because they fail one or more classes.

    Even though IDEA indicates that the school should indicate how they will include students with disabilities in extracurricular activities,. IEP teams frequently do not address this issue.

    Sports and other activities can greatly improve a student’s feelings of belonging to the school community. They can demonstrate that they have abilities as well as difficulties. Grades affected by a disabling condition should be looked at the same as age.