Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Student seeks OK for sports


Suit cites disability in eligibility request

BY EARNEST WINSTON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A federal judge could decide as early as today whether to let a disabled Hamilton High School student play sports this academic year despite opposition from state athletic officials.

        On Monday, several Hamilton High football coaches and the mother of student Ryan Dixon testified in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, saying he should be allowed to play sports because it improves his behavior and grades.

        However, the Ohio High School Athletic Association argued that its bylaws require students to play no more than eight semesters of high school sports.

        Mr. Dixon, 18, a senior, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bi-polar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, had to repeat his freshman year because of continual suspensions due to behavioral problems that kept him out of class. “The school system failed to address the manifestations of his disabilities,” said his mother, Inga Dixon.

        Mr. Dixon is in his ninth semester of high school, and cannot play sports unless a court intervenes.

        When his hearing continues this morning, Judge Sandra S. Beckwith could grant a preliminary and per manent injunction today. Last week, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order, allowing Mr. Dixon to practice with the Big Blue and suit up for last Friday's game against Fairfield.

        Coach Ed Mignery, offensive coach George Konstis and defensive line/strength coach Anthony Mattia testified Monday that Mr. Dixon's participation in sports provides him a structured environment that contributes largely to his academic success.

        Mrs. Dixon said her son did not play sports when he repeated his freshman year mainly because he was academically ineligible but also because he'd had surgery.

        When he's not playing sports, Mrs. Dixon said her son has behavioral problems and his grades drop. Mr. Dixon even became suicidal at one point, she said, threatening to jump out a window because he thought he would not be allowed to play sports anymore.

        The structure in athletics “keeps him focused,” said Mrs. Dixon, adding that her son wants to attend college.

        Mr. Dixon, who plays wide receiver, also has played basketball and track. His individualized education plan (IEP) says that playing interscholastic sports is essential to his academic success, but school officials say they must abide by the state athletic association bylaws.

        Steven L. Craig, who represents the Ohio High School Athletic Association, said Mr. Dixon's updated IEP does not specify that he has to play sports for him to achieve good grades and eliminate behavioral problems.

        Mrs. Dixon and her husband, David, filed a lawsuit in federal court after losing two appeals to the association's board of control.

       



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