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posted: 1/27/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Sports, the disabled and equal opportunity

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It wasn't that long ago, baby boomers can attest, when a school-age girl with an interest in sports essentially had one option -- the cheerleading squad.

Think of all the girls from that generation who sat on the sidelines, who couldn't play sports, who were told in so many words that they shouldn't play sports.

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With the success of Title IX and the widespread growth of girls athletics not just in the schools but in all of the feeder programs that have sprung up around them, we've almost forgotten that time, almost forgotten how unfair that inequity was.

Think of all the students with disabilities who sit on the sidelines today, who are told in so many words that they shouldn't play sports.

Let our position on this be clear: We strongly agree with the concept espoused in a U.S. Department of Education directive last week that schools should provide for athletic opportunities for students with disabilities.

We agree with the statement by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that "sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage,"

One of those life lessons sports teach is about limits. Some people can run a 4-minute mile. Some people can't. Sports teach you that in a way nothing else does, and teach you how to adapt to the limits you have, how to maximize what you can do with whatever talent you have. That is one of the great lessons of sports. Don't kids with disabilities deserve that lesson too?

To us, the answer is obvious, but then, we don't really need to justify that sports are valuable. By their sheer emphasis on sports, schools have made the tacit argument that it is important for students to have the opportunity to play them.

And as long as schools consider sports essential for their able-bodied students, that same reasoning must apply to their disabled students.

Why wouldn't it?

Not all able-bodied students play sports; not all disabled ones will either. But that's not the point. It's about opportunity.

From all those standpoints, this directive is a logical and a moral one. It could bring sweeping change that is as beneficial for the upcoming generation as Title IX was for the past generation.

But the key will be the implementation, and on that matter our support of the federal directive wavers a good deal.

This directive, on such a landmark and potentially costly issue, appears to have caught most local school officials by surprise.

How can that be?

How can the federal government take on an issue with such huge implications without much in the way of grass-roots involvement with the local schools that will be carrying out the measure -- and, dare we say, paying the bills at a time when it's hard enough to pay those the schools already have?

As we said at the outset, we believe this is a concept that merits pursuit. But it's one that should be developed in partnership, not with distant edicts.

Let's begin the task now of implementation -- with collaborative guidelines that are reasonable, affordable and sure.

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