Role of disabled athletes expanded

More events available, but participants can't score points at states

Track and field

February 11, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's executive council is opening the door for more participation from wheelchair-bound track and field performers in the state and regional meets this spring, but still won't allow those athletes to score team points.

MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks said the executive council decided Thursday to let wheelchair participants compete in the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races this spring at those meets alongside able-bodied runners. Last year, they couldn't compete in the 100 and 200.

Sparks said the MPSSAA wants more wheelchair athletes to compete and will have separate races for them if enough come out for a specific event. The only difference is that, at the state meet, the athletes will be in one pool and not divided into the four classifications based on schools' enrollment figures. Wheelchair athletes also must meet qualifying standards like other runners.

But, in the end, wheelchair athletes can't score team points. Sparks said the executive council approved the terms and conditions that its track and field committee put forth, and they would be reviewed again next year.

"Since we don't have an equitable way to score the points, we won't award team points," Sparks said.

Wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden has been leading the fight to not only compete but also score team points.

The Atholton junior gained national attention last year when, after legal wrangling, she became the first wheelchair athlete to compete in Maryland. The MPSSAA's decision disappointed McFadden and her mother.

"The state just says no, no, no, no, no," McFadden said. "I really want to contribute to my team. It's fun competing, but I want all of it. I want to run with everyone and have points."

Deborah McFadden was surprised by the decision because her family reached an agreement with Howard County last month allowing her daughter to score one to six points in races based upon the number of wheelchair participants.

"What the state of Maryland is saying is, `We're not thrilled about this, but we'll let you compete,' " Deborah McFadden said, adding that she will explore appeal options. "But competition means you're racing for points ... and they're saying that they've made a formal ruling that she doesn't exist."

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