COLUMBUS — The Ohio High School Athletic Association in 2013 will allow athletes in wheelchairs to compete at a state tournament for the first time.
“I think this is going to be great,” said Pam Patula, executive director of Southeastern Ohio Center for Independent Living, or SOCIL. “It’s a great opportunity for athletes.”
SOCIL assists people who have significant disabilities who want to live more independently in Fairfield and Hocking counties.
The OHSAA’s board on Thursday approved a recommendation to add eight wheelchair championship events in track and field.
Derek Upp, an Fairfield County athlete who competes in handcycle events, said the changes and the opportunity are a good thing for athletes with disabilities.
“I’m really trying to find different events that I can participate in,” Upp said. “There aren’t that many events that we can join in, so this is a great opportunity for the athletes.”
Under the OHSAA’s board recommendation, girls and boys would compete separately in the 100- , 400- and 800-meter and the shotput. Participants will wear school uniforms and be awarded individual honors but won’t score points for their teams.
The top eight boys’ and top eight girls’ performances in each event during the regular season will qualify eligible athletes to participate in the state finals, regardless of their schools’ athletic division assignments.
“There are many athletes with disabilities that participate in sports, but often they are segregated from other athletes,” Patula said. “This will be a great way for them to participate at the same events and be with other athletes. It is all about inclusion and participation. This opportunity will allow these extremely talented athletes the opportunity to shine in front of large crowds. Unfortunately the current venues don’t always provide them the visibility they deserve.”
According to the athletic association, Ohio will be among about a dozen states that include athletes in wheelchairs in a state tournament.
“The impact on the young athletes with physical disabilities participating in this championship will be incredible,” said Charlie Huebner, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Paralympics, in a news release announcing the change. “They will be representing their schools and communities in ways that have never been seen in Ohio. I commend the Ohio High School Athletic Association and the state track and field coaches association for making this dream a reality for the athletes participating in Paralympic sport.”