Students with special needs might have additional opportunities to participate in athletics if a bill that has been introduced in the N.C. House is passed.
House Bill 314 would provide $300,000 a year to the Department of Public Instruction or State Aid for Public Schools to develop and implement a pilot athletics program for students with disabilities in kindergarten through 12th grade.
House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam, R-Wake, is among its sponsors.
“This will provide some funding for children with disabilities to participate and also raise awareness of the need to have opportunities for children with disabilities,” said Gregg Sinders, the education policy adviser for Stam.
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Bridge II Sports, a nonprofit corporation that helps provide athletics for athletes with disabilities, has raised a matching $300,000.
The program is expected to begin in 30 counties, but Ashley Thomas, the executive director of Bridge II Sports, said the eventual goal is to have an adaptive program in every county.
The program would meet the requirements set in a January 2013 edict from the U.S. Department of Education that requires equal access to extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities
The N.C. High School Athletic Association, which oversees high school competition among public schools and some nonboarding parochial schools in North Carolina, has events in the state track and field championships for athletes with disabilities.
Athletes in wheelchairs scored the deciding points in the 4A classification in the 2014 track and field championships. Winston-Salem Mount Tabor edged Apex 63-57 for the crown with two wheelchair athletes scoring eight points.
“North Carolina is a leader in adaptive athletics,” said Sinders, who has officiated NCHSAA sports. “The association has allowed its adaptive athletes to compete in the state championships in track and field and be a part of the team. We are inclusive.”
Sinders said he has seen the affect that athletics can have on young people through his work in officiating high school competitions.
“You see a greater confidence level, greater self-esteem,” he said. “You see that carry over into academics.”
Davis Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner, said he is very confident there will be more opportunities for exceptional children.
“North Carolina has charged down the path to be all-inclusive in our athletics, and I am very confident with the track that we have taken,” he said. “We want to encourage our students to be in involved in athletics. I suspect there will be more opportunities.”
Thomas, the Bridge II Sports head, said North Carolina has the best Special Olympics program in the country, and the goal is to have the best adaptive program as well.
“We have been working on this program for years,” Thomas said. “North Carolina already is the national leader, but we want to keep moving forward.”