Age rule ends special athlete's football career
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SAMPSON COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- One special high school athlete's true love is being taken away from him. Brett Bowden will no longer be able to play football because of his age, and no exception is going to be made despite his incredible story.

Hobbton High School in Sampson County is steeped in football tradition, but one player has held special significance the past couple of seasons. Brett Bowden is a 19-year-old junior at Hobbton. He was born with Down's Syndrome, but in no way does that describe him as a person.

"Brett doesn't see that he has Down's Syndrome," Brett's mom Pat Bowden said. "Brett just wants to be one of those guys out there, dressed, thinking that he is a football player, feeling like he's a football player."

Brett has played two seasons of football as a Hobbton Wildcat. He leads the team onto the field, cheers from the sidelines and has even scored a touchdown in a game. He is living his dream.

Why does he like football more than other sports?

"Catch the ball, run around and touchdowns!" Brett said.

"Brett means the world to me. I promise you. He's my inspiration," teammate Charles Chestnutt said. "When I come on Friday nights and he leads us out the tunnel, that tells me that it's time for me to play and do what I got to do for him."

But now that dream is being taken from him. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association says Bowden is too old to participate in athletics.

"Telling Brett that you can no longer be a team player, you can only wear a jersey on the sidelines, he's going to wonder, 'What have I done wrong to deserve this? I've played, why can't I play?" Pat said.

Brett playing football at Hobbton High is not only important to his family and his teammates, but it's also important to the Hobbton community. His sister Taylor helped organize the "Let Brett Bowden Play" Facebook page. After one week it has more than 1,000 fans.

"The whole community loves Brett, his personality," Taylor said. "Everyone comes to the football games to watch him. When he goes out there and warms up it's the best time."

Although his future as an athlete is in the NCHSAA's hands, one thing they can never take away are Brett's memories on the field.

"I love it," Brett said.

The NCHSAA says it cannot set aside the age rule no matter what the circumstances. It will allow Brett to stand on the sidelines, but he cannot wear pads or play.

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Football is a serious sport. why would the let a not serious player play.... we wont make college football and he is only hurting the team. it is stupid pitty they are giving

It is unbelievable to see comments like "rules are rules" and the like. Seriously? We all know that for every rule, there is ALWAYS a way to make an exception to it. Often it will involve a person in charge utilizing discretion or leniency. If the exception for Brett were stated correctly, there should be no fear that this would open a can of worms. It is sad that we are in the year 2011 and this kind of lack of insight and discrimination is still taking place against people with disabilities. The whole premise of the Federal IDEA is to ensure that kids are educated in the least restrictive environment and therefore integrated with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. Accommodations and modifications are allowed to be made for them so that this can take place. This includes being able to stay in school until they are 22 years old. Athletics should be no exception to the premise of the IDEA. I hope there is an attorney out there in North Carolina who sees the worth of this case and takes this case pro bono. We're rooting for you Brett!

This is a far, far bigger problem than just this specific instance. . . due to developmental delays, many adults -often very large adults- would, for example, like to go see Thomas the Tank Engine, hop around in ball pits, etc. Perhaps prohibiting this could be styled as “ageism” or “size-ism” – in any event, there is no graceful way out… however, in THIS case, the young man could certainly be an assistant coach – something we’ve done successfully with baseball and basketball teams. And it is an appropriate position for someone transitioning into adulthood. As a coach, and as a parent, I cannot justify changing the rule – a change will have effects far beyond this specific case. And, please, everyone think beyond just acceding to the parents wishes just to “make this poor disabled kid happy” – that is, simply put, patronizing.

Excellent points--all of them!

Wow, I thought that school sports were about I dunno, fun? I guess for this coach an older disabled kid playing football could lead to laws protecting old men who want to dress and act like children. Geez.

The correct term is DOWN SYNDROME, there is never an 's.

The disorder is named after a physician whose name was Down. Hence the Down's (like Alzheimer's or Kleinfelter's). Both Down syndrome and Down's syndrome are in use.

shame on someone out there that couldn't wait until this "loophole" happened. don't blame the coach, teachers or teammates..but I know parents and I know Down Syndrome and inclusion and I know what happens. whoever started this will get theres. Whoever heard of a Senior not allowed to play any type of sport their Senior year; especially if they've played all four years. I know a parent started this. My gut says so. I'm already experiencing it and my daughter is only ten. She's just realizing that people are not including her. Those of you that are ICICLES and say don't let your emotions get in the way of RULES. BS.!!Hey a star player would have still played. You bet you.

Since this student has a verified disability due to the Down Syndrome he probably has an Individualized Education Plan as per the federal law IDEA. I would call an IEP team meeting as soon as possible and put that he may play football with his teammates since we have to look at social/emotional well being of our students on his IEP. This age requirement might be waved in the modifications/ accommodations in the Iep. IDEA is Federal law and may trump rules by the state.

...accepting the rules as they exist and stop letting emotions be the primary guiding force in our life.

As an employee of Brookhaven Towns Special Recreation Program in New York I can tell you this is not right. The basic idea with special needs people is to intergrate them into the community. Clearly he has done this and deserves the right to suit up and play. The rules can be ammended to accomodate special needs students.

I do understand how Brett feels, but as a High school Coach, rules are rules and they are there for a reason. The rules are not fair for Brett but it is what it is.... But I think it's time to Call him Coach Brett, have him help the coaches for the team!

Rules are MADE to be broken. Status quo SHOULD be challenged!

I can' understand what it would hurt to let Brett act like he's playing after all that's all he is doing . It makes him feel important and gives him something to look foward to. which apparently some people don't understand. why was he allowed to practice if he can't be on the field

Seriously, "rules are rules?" Most states don't let kids stay in traditional school after they turn 20. Do you really think a parent is going to hold their child back so they will do better in sports? If anything, that would be likely to hurt their future career in sports. We are talking about a kid who isn't going to have anyone scouting him, nor is he going to be tackling someone and breaking their neck. Did you even look at his picture? My son has high functioning autism. He was held back one year--not two!--and will turn 19 during his senior year. He's already bigger than most high school seniors, but he's not interested in football and wouldn't understand the game anyway. Are they going to say he can't participate in state art competitions because of his age? Maybe he has better motor skills than a 16 year old and that gives him an advantage? Let's be realistic! Let the kid play!

AS A MOTHER,GRANDMOTHER AND A SISTER OF FOOTBALL PLAYERS IN GRADE SCHOOL TO HIGH SCHOOL LET BRETT PLAY HE MIGHT BE 19 BUT MENTALLY HE IS NOT.WENT TO SCHOOL WITH A BOY THAT HAD DOWN'S SYNDROME AND HE WAS ALMOST 20 YEARS OLD WHEN HE GRADUATED GOING TO HIS CLASS AS A SPECIAL ED STUDENT THAT WAS A LONG TIME AGO 1970'S TO BE EXACT AND MOST OF MY CLASS MATES AND OLDER OR YOUNGER MADE FUN OF HIM BUT WHAT THEY DIDN'T KNOW THAT HE DID HAVE A BRAIN AND COULD USE IN HIS OWN SPECIAL WAY AND WAS ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS ALWAYS MAKING SURE I GOT TO SCHOOL OK AND IF I NEEDED HELP CARRYING BOOKS HOME (I WALK APROX 1 MILE HOME IN ALL KIND OF WEATHER)IN THE SUMMER HE WOULD WALK DOWN TOWN ( A LITTLE COAL MINING TOWN AND STOP TO ASK IF MY NEEDED ANYTHING FROM THE STORE HE WOULD PICK IT UP)AND YES SOMETIMES I WOULD WALK WITH HIM AND WAS MADE FUN OF BUT THAT DIDN'T BOTHER ME OR HIM CAUSE SEE I GREW UP WITH A BROTHER AND BASICLY 2 GIRLS MY AGE WHERE I LIVED AND 1 WAS A TOM BOY JUST LIKE ME SO WE PLAYED TACKAL FOOTBALL WITH MY BROTHER(3 YEARS OLDER)AND HIS BUDDIES AND IF ANYONE WOULD EVEN TRY TO MAKE FUN OR PICK ON HIM I WOULD BEAT THEM UP BOBBY MILLER WAS HIS NAME AND NO LONGER WITH US BUT I CAN SEE HIS FACE RIGHT SMILING BECAUSE HE KNOWS I HATE PEOPLE WHO DISCRIMINATE ON SUCH THINGS PLEASE JUST LET THE BOY DO HIS THING WITH THE TEAM IT SEEMS THAT IS WHEN HE IS WHEN HE IS HAPPY CHANGE THAT DUMP STATE RULE ON AGE AND TRY MAKING IF IT IS A SPECIAL NEEDS KID LET HIM PLAY

There is no reason why he shouldnt be able to play. What about no kid left behind. There is always something someone can do. Dont hurt someone who enjoys a little something out of life. Be human. Let him play.

Dear Mr. North Carolina Athletic Association decision maker:

You know this isn't right. You have the ability to change to accomodate someone in this situation. Obviously, the kid has overcome enough in his life just to get to play football. Now, at least let the kid dress and be with his team. Please do the right thing.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Brett-Bowden-Play/229211873780578?sk=w...

Kudos to this young man for putting his heart into the game and setting a good example. I don't clearly see why the NCHSAA could not make an exception for his senior year. This State needs to wise up a little! Brett thanks for being an inspiration and best of luck!

Scott

http://ndss.org/ National Down Syndrome Society

It's Down Syndrome (not Down's Syndrome). Though technically correct, the "apostrophe s" is primarily used in the UK.

Who cares what it is technically named!? The point is how it affects the child. The reason he is "too old" is because of the disability. The rule was instated so no one could have an unfair advantage, but this is not the case in this situation.

One question,why is 19 the magic age to cut players from a team?

that decades ago, a high school player in NC died of a broken neck while being tackled in a playoff game. The player who tackled him was about 21 years old. To me, this rule makes sense. It sucks for this kid but imagine if a ripped 19 or 20 year old who could play in college lined up against your gangly 16 year old. If a kid is 19 when football tryouts start, he has failed two grades. Physically, he's way ahead of the other players at the high school level.

Yeah but we are not talking about a ripped 19 or 20. We are talking about a boy who has a disability & is trying to make something of himself. There should always be exceptions to rules when it comes to people with disabilities.

Brett doesn't actually "play" in the sense that the other kids do. He's no subjected to tackling, etc. He is perfectly safe.

Such good points, those need to be expressed on Brett's page. I support this kid and I really feel bad for him but rules are rules.

I do feel for this young man and I can understand where the family is coming from, but rules are rules. If this age rule did not exist, then how many other people would hold back their children so next year they'd be a better athlete?

Personally, I'm all for letting him play! But there would be too many abuses of the system and if they let him play then it opens another can of worms for years to come. Others would whine later when their child was not allowed to extend their play, you can't trust people enough to let this one exception to be made for an extrodinary circumstance. People just all around stick.

That's what I've been saying ever since this hit my facebook page. I feel for this young man and would love to be able to see him continue on the team. However, what about all the other 19 year old Seniors that would want to play? The rule is in place for a reason. Brett can suit up in his Jersey and be on the sidelines, he can be manager, water boy, score keeper, mascot, whatever. He can't wear the pads and/or helmet.
Rules are rules.
If they let him play and by some chance win the championship, it would give another team the opportunity to appeal. I don't think anyone would want that.
That being said, I have no dog in this fight. But, hope it all works out for the best.

Very well said. Hopefully he can continue to be a part of the team, but just not actually play on the field. There is plenty he could do. As mentioned, an exception here would lead to more down the road.

I agree with your opinion, HOWEVER, I don't think you are getting the point. Nobody is asking for the rule to be changed... but rather "bent" to accommodate a special situation. The premise behind not allowing boys over 18 to participate because they may be more physically developed, and may have have the ability to hurt younger boys is valid. But, in this case, temporarily bending the rule to allow a challanged 19-year old participate is an exception that will make a positive impact on not only the young man himself, but his entire community.