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Speer: Circumstance that calls for exemption

May 11, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

I'm a sucker for well-written human interest features, especially those involving daily life that each of us can identify with.

Today one of those features is being written across Michigan, as athletic directors in each of the state's school districts vote on a proposal to raise the maximum age limit for students to participate in sports under special, limited circumstances.

The issue stems from a request by Dean Dompierre, on behalf of his son Eric, a 19-year-old student at Ishpeming High School who has Down syndrome. Eric has played basketball and football in past seasons but next year - his senior year - he would be denied eligibility by current Michigan High School Athletic Association rules because he would be too old.

The Dompierres believe that in special circumstances, such as Eric's, that rule should be suspended.

The passion of the father-son effort, which began years ago, has received national attention, including coverage in Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The New York Times and Fox Sports. Ishpeming is covered routinely by our sister publication in Marquette, The Mining Journal.

Dean, in a story this week with Journal Staff Writer Jackie Stark, said after he initiated a petition drive at a website the father-son team created,, over 100,000 signatures had been gathered for the MHSAA's meeting last weekend in Gaylord.

"I tried for two years (to change the rule) and failed two or three times," Dean told The Mining Journal in reference to his decision to reach out to the media. "We were hoping that we could find a wider audience of people who maybe understood the process better than us and held more sway with the MHSAA - and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Eric's dilemma was created by his parents, who because of the Down syndrome, had him spend two extra years in elementary school to better prepare him for the higher grades later.

Steve Brownlee, another Mining Journal sports reporter, wrote in an article last month that Eric tries to live his life as any other normal student.

"Dompierre isn't a star on either the varsity football or basketball squad, but like any other player who doesn't see a lot of time in games, he is just as integral a part of those teams as a talented quarterback or point guard," Brownlee wrote.

"Eric is a real bright kid, and he's always fun to be around," varsity basketball coach Bob Salisbury said in that same story. "He's always got a smile on his face, and he fits in great with his classmates.

"Eric's been great for the team - when he gets in games when the team or the fans might be losing interest if the score isn't close - everybody is rooting for him. Not just our fans, but the fans from the other team, too."

And while he may not be a sharpshooter, he made a basket in the Hematites' only district tournament game this season, a loss to Negaunee in early March.

"And last year on the JV level, he got in late in a game against Westwood and he hit three 3-pointers in a row," Salisbury said. "The place went nuts when he did that.

"It's so neat to see and be a part of. It's probably something I'll never to get to top."

The MHSAA understandably needs rules and regulations to govern sports, and the age limit requirement on paper is understandable. However, in a circumstance such as Eric's, so is the special exemption, and I believe the way the governing language has been proposed now satisfies both concerns.

MHSAA officials released one press release regarding the vote and indicated they would not be issuing any other information until the results of the vote are made public the end of the month.

Ballots on the change to the MHSAA constitution were mailed out this week, and must be returned in a two-week period. The proposal needs two-thirds support of its more than 1,500 members in order to be adopted.

Districts are urged to share "yes" votes with the Dompierres at the website, which has an ongoing list of districts supporting the effort. As of Friday, no local districts were yet included.

Eric's story is one too good not to share.

Come on guys, just "letemplay!"



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