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Feds tell schools to open opportunities for disabled athletes

7:40 PM, Jan 25, 2013   |    comments
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"As far as providing opportunities, I think we should provide opportunities for all students," said Bob Nelson, athletic director at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch.

ThunderRidge celebrates its Unified athletics program which gives special needs students like Chris Rodewald a chance for athletic glory.

"I participate in Unified Soccer, Unified Basketball, and I swim," sophomore Rodewald said.

Unified sports combine athletes with and without disabilities to compete together.

"Its fun," Rodewald said. "You get exercise and you feel happy."

Friday morning, the U.S. Department of Education issued a rules clarification stating that schools must provide more opportunities for disabled athletes to participate in athletics. It could mean a visual start cue for a deaf runner, or an waiver of the "two-hand" finish rule for a swimmer with one arm, or the creation of more programs like Unified sports.

Nelson applauds the call for change.

"It gives them a sense of completeness as much as anything else that they're every bit as important as every other kid in this school," Nelson said.

The Department of Education sent a letter to every public school calling for this change. Nelson admits other schools with fewer resources might be concerned about an order that doesn't have any money attached to it.

"People are going to say - where are we going to get the funds to support something like this, but it's doable," Nelson said.

He says Douglas County already allocates little funding to athletics and they find a way to make it work. He says schools might have to look to community partnerships to help with uniforms and supplies.

"There's facility constraints and some of those types of things that would complicate it for us, but we would find ways to make it happen," Nelson said.

When Title IX came out in 1972, Nelson says schools scoffed at making changes then. He says 40 years later, people are still trying to figure out how to create equal opportunities for female athletes. He believes this change will happen in the same way - slowly but surely.

"It's not something that would happen overnight," Nelson said.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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