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updated: 9/18/2012 8:11 PM

IHSA, disabled swimmer reach deal over lawsuit

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Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN -- An advocacy group and a disabled high school swimmer said Tuesday that they have reached a settlement with the organization that oversees high school sports in Illinois that will allow a 16-year-old student and other disabled swimmers to compete this year.

The agreement follows a lawsuit filed by Equip for Equality on behalf of Mary Kate Callahan of LaGrange and by the Illinois attorney general's office. The advocacy group says discussions continue about access to track and field events, but the attorney general's office says it's still pursuing its legal action.

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Equip for Equality said in a Tuesday news release that the agreement with the Illinois High School Association will allow disabled swimmers to compete in the 50-yard, 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard breaststroke.

"Equip for Equality is pleased that the parties have been able to reach an agreement so that Mary Kate and other swimmers with disabilities will have the opportunity to participate in this year's high school season and post season meets, including the State Finals," the group said in a statement.

"We appreciate the time and resources that Equip for Equality dedicated in the development of this new IHSA program," IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said.

Attorney general's spokeswoman Natalie Bauer, however, said the agreement resolves only some of the issue.

"This is a good initial step to allow Mary Kate and others to swim this fall, but it still leaves open a tremendous number of outstanding issues that need to be addressed -- all the other sports teams and the question of how disabled athletes can earn points for their team," Bauer said.

Mary Kate is paralyzed from the waist down after contracting a neurological disorder called transverse myelitis as an infant. She swims using her arms and shoulders.

She sued the IHSA in May, noting that while her school, Fenwick High School in Oak Park, lets her compete in local swimming meets, she can't win points for her team and didn't have the option of competing in separate categories for disabled swimmers.

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