A new federal guideline is trying to get more students with disabilities more involved in athletics.
The law that requires students with disabilities to have equal opportunities in extracurricular activities and sports has existed since the early 1970s.
Now, with the creation of the new guidelines, schools and educators have a better idea of how to exactly follow the law.
And the Onalaska School District hopes it will finally help answer the growing need for these types of programs.
For the students participating in the Onalaska school district's Adaptive Sports League, sports coach Jim Cappuccio said the benefits go beyond the playing field.
“I've noticed now that they have a reason they like school more,” said Cappuccio. “They have friends, they talk about practice at school, they look forward to coming to practice, and they want to win. We work for a common goal, and those are skills that they can take throughout life with them.”
Cappuccio started the program last year as an effort for the students with disabilities to have a league of their own.
“This puts them at the same level of all the kids that are competing,” said Cappuccio. “So it allows, I think, a fair competition.”
It's the only program of its kind in the area.
It gives eighth grader Jason Grodevant a chance to feel like a Major League Baseball player without the challenges of trying out for the traditional baseball team at the school.
“Because it was a little too hard,” said Grodevant. "I kept missing the ball.”
Now, the Department of Education has released official guidelines for schools across the nation to give educators a better idea of how to better incorporate students with disabilities into athletics.
The guidelines list specific disabilities and give suggestions for school officials on how to make fair adjustments to traditional sports so that students with disabilities can safely participate.
If that isn't an option, the guidelines suggest schools create new programs just for these students.
UW-La Crosse professor of sports science Garth Tymeson said this could mean big changes for middle and high schools, as well as postsecondary schools.
“This is not where you see some of those examples on television where the youngster with Down syndrome or autism takes one shot at the end of the basketball game or serves as the manager of the football team,” said Tymeson. “This is about having an actual planned program of sport participation for students with disabilities, of all types of disabilities.”
Cappuccio said the new guidelines gives him hope that all students, no matter what their background, will get a fair chance to play.
“There's a definite need,” said Cappuccio. “Extracurricular activities not only provide physical exercise, but it provides a core group of kids that you can hang out with and have for friends.”
The cost for school districts to implement a new sports program for students with disabilities could be a major concern for school districts.
He said the Onalaska School District's league is funded by a small portion of the school's extracurricular activities fund.
He adds the sports in the league, wiffle ball, indoor soccer and floor hockey, are not as costly as some of the traditional sports.
The Onalaska School District modeled its program after the well-established state program in Minnesota.