Feds direct schools to include disabled students in sports

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Federal education officials today directed public schools across the country to include disabled students in traditional sports programs.

Advocates are hailing the action, although they expect some challenges.

Bob Gardner - who leads the National Federation of High School Associations - favors the effort. But he also predicts some schools may have trouble adjusting, especially in areas with fewer disabled students.

In an interview with KPCC's Larry Mantle, Gardner said organizing a "traditional team" - like a wheelchair basketball squad - could be difficult because there might not be enough athletes within a reasonable driving distance.

But including disabled athletes with able-bodied ones could drastically change the game.

“Those are the challenges," said Gardner.

School officials say they're aware of the potential issues. Federal leaders emphasize it’s up to schools to work out the kinks - but that excluding a disabled student who wants to compete is not an option.

That’s a good thing, says Scott Bowling. He runs the nonprofit Exceptional Children’s Foundation in Culver City. The program serves disabled kids in Los Angeles County.

“Early learning experiences and early successes can be generalized through other arenas of our lives," says Bowling. "Sometimes that takes place first on the basketball court or a football field or a track field. And we have seen this time and time again, from the people that we serve.” 

Education officials say schools may consider organizing athletic programs for disabled students that mirror traditional sports teams.

Historians compare the order to the landmark Title IX expansion of sports for female athletes decades ago.