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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.

Comment on this Story

  • Tnigz

    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

  • Guest

    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.

  • Guest

    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.

  • Guest

    Excellent points–all of them!

  • Guest

    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!

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

  • Guest

    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.

  • Guest

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

  • Guest

    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.

  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

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

  • Tina Fahrenbrook

    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.

  • bill

    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.

  • Scott Spahr

    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!

  • pam

    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

  • Guest

    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!

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