BUFFALO, NY – David Gorczynski has been a member of the Orchard Park High School Cross Country Track team for three years.
In that time, he has finished last in every race he has run.
However, David has challenges that, at the very least, might make his participation in such a sport a daunting endeavor indeed.
For one thing, one of his legs is shorter than the other. He also has other disabilities including but not limited to having an autism spectrum disorder, severe enough to require an adult guide to run with him to ensure he doesn’t venture from the course of any particular race.
But despite those challenges, David always completes the races, often to the encouraging cheers of his supportive teammates waiting at the finish line.
Though it seems nothing would stop him, one thing almost did.
A State Education Department regulation, pertaining to the age of high school athletes, and its conclusion that he was to old to continue.
Though he was granted a waiver to participate last fall when he was 19, Gorczynski was not eligible under current rules to be granted a second one.
Following the filing of a lawsuit by his mother on her son’s behalf, State Supreme Court Justice John Michalski has issued a summary judgment in the case, essentially paving the way for David, who will turn 21 in January, to be a member of the track team once again.
“Well, I’m happy for the boy,” said Robert Bennett, a member of the New York State Board of Regents who lobbied the New York State Education Commissioner on Gorczynski’s behalf.
“I mean, good Lord…the intention of the regulation is to protect kids from injury and not create an unfair advantage for (older) kids over others that are in high school…but he’s not going to hurt anyone running track,” Bennett said.
Bennett, noting the rule was primarily put in place for contact sports such as football and wrestling, says the State Education Department is already working to modify its regulations to allow for special exceptions in non-contact sports like cross-country.
“And I’m going to be recommending to the board and the Chancellor that we do that,” he said.
At least two state lawmakers are also working on changing the state education law regarding the issue.
“We’re calling on the New York State Department of Education to change this bureaucratic rule that is preventing kids from participating in the sports not only that they want to play, but that they deserve to play,” said NYS Senator Timothy Kennedy (D-63rd District).
“We can change this law so that others aren’t jeopardized in the future,” agreed NYS Senator Mark Grisanti (R-60th District).
“I’m very happy with the judge’s decision, and so are David and his family,” said Linda DeTine, the Gorczynski’s attorney from Neighborhood Legal Services.
They are not the only ones.
“This is just one of those situations where you just had to speak up for the kids,” said Bill Wende, who operates a web site called Section6Runs.com, dedicated to high school track and field, and which took up David’s cause, even starting an online petition which more than 800 people had signed on his behalf.
“I think it probably should have been a decision down at the district level but with all the people behind it, we got what we needed.”
And so too, did David Gorczynski.
“Absolutely…and other student athletes like him,” Wende said.
Though named as a defendant in the suit, the Orchard Park School District was never opposed to Gorczynski’s continued participation on the team. It just maintained that due to state education law, its hands were tied.
It does not appear the State Education Department is upset about the court ruling either.
“We are pleased that the student will be able to participate on his track team again next year,” said department spokesperson Jonathan Burman in a statement to WGRZ-TV.
Further proof of that may exist in a decision the department has already made, according to Bennett, to not appeal the ruling.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Franco Ardito. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2