MAINE PRINCIPALS' ASSOCIATION GRANTS REVISED REQUEST FOR LEAVITT AREA HIGH SCHOOL WHEELCHAIR ATHLETE TO RACE IN MAINE PRINCIPALS' ASSOCIATION REGIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
MPA offers school two options allowing athlete to participate while maintaining safety for all runners
AUGUSTA, ME - After a revised request from the Leavitt Area High School Principal was presented to the Maine Principals' Association, a Leavitt Area High School sophomore will be allowed to participate in the October 26, 2019 MPA Regional Cross Country Championships.
Principal Eben Shaw requested that the student be allowed to race, on a modified course, during a separate race. The MPA agreed that this request would allow the student an opportunity to participate, while eliminating safety concerns over potential falls and collisions with other athletes.
While granting the school's request for a separate exhibition race, the MPA also offered a separate wheelchair division that would compete at the state championship as well as the regional championships. Because the Cross Country State Meet is conducted on the same day and place for all three classes, the wheelchair division could include athletes from any member schools. Under this proposal, wheelchair athletes would be eligible to compete for a medal in the regional meet and would have the potential of competing in the wheelchair division at the State Meet.
"We believe these two options offer safety as well as the opportunity to participate. While this young man has participated in cross country races during the season without mishap, the Twin Brook course, where this year's Championships will be held, with its uneven terrain, steep hills, sharp turns, that can be slippery and muddy if there's rain before or during the race, will be very challenging" said Michael Burnham, Executive Director of the Interscholastic Division of the MPA. "Add to that the volume of runners at a statewide meet, and we all agreed that the safety concerns were too great to meet an initial request that he race with the entire complement of runners."
Earlier this fall, the Leavitt Area High School's Athletics Administrator requested that the student, Jon Schomaker, be allowed to compete with the other participants in the MPA Regional Cross Country Championships. After many consultations with the U.S. Paralympics, Adaptive Sports of New England, and the National Federation of State High Schools, as well as the MPA's Cross Country Committee, Sports Medicine Committee, and Interscholastic Management Committee, it was determined that having him on the course, as it is built, and alongside more than 100 other runners would be unsafe both to him and the other runners.
"As someone with many years of experience in sports medicine, on both the local and national level, I believe the options provided to Leavitt Area High School by the MPA are extremely reasonable and, most important, safe for all concerned," said Dr. William Heinz, a medical orthopedist specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of sports related injuries, who advises the MPA on sports medicine. "I understand the emotions involved, but the safety of all students should be paramount."
"More than a hundred runners will be on a course that loops back on itself so that you have runners coming and going, and in places, it's very narrow. Having him race a modified course that would trail the rest of the runners, however, is much safer," added Burnham. "As would having him compete in a wheelchair division. We want all student athletes to be able to participate. In fact, we worked with this young man just last winter to develop standards in indoor track. We've had a wheelchair division in outdoor track for several years and believe we can develop a similar program for cross country."
After research the MPA could find no other state in the country that currently allows wheelchair athletes to compete in high school cross country alongside other runners because of the concerns about safety of both the wheelchair athletes and other runners.
"The MPA has worked diligently with the school to find an accommodation for our athlete that allows him to participate and that also takes into consideration his safety and that of the many other athletes who will be on the course racing," said Leavitt Area High School Principal Eben Shaw. "The MPA gave us these two options, which we believe are excellent means of achieving everyone's desired outcome, and we'll make a decision soon."
The Maine Principals' Association is a professional association representing Maine's K-12 principals, assistant principals, and career and technology center directors. The Association dates to 1921 and focuses its work on promoting the principalship, supporting principals as educational leaders, and promoting and administering interscholastic activities in grades 9-12.