Deaf Michigan wrestler files lawsuit over rule regarding interpreter

Deaf Michigan wrestler files lawsuit over rule regarding interpreter


Deaf Michigan wrestler files lawsuit over rule regarding interpreter

A deaf high school wrestler in suburban Detroit filed a lawsuit to try to get a sign-language interpreter closer to the mat.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association said an interpreter is allowed in the same area as a coach, typically the corner of a mat. But lawyers for wrestler Ellis Kempf of Royal Oak High School said it’s not close enough and unfair, especially when an opponent can hear guidance from a coach without looking around.

The lawsuit contends the MHSAA is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act.

A referee disallowed Kempf’s interpreter during a match last season, according to the lawsuit.

 “We aren’t seeking money and he doesn’t want an advantage,” the teen’s mother, Elizabeth Kempf, said in a statement. “He just wants to continue using his interpreter so he can understand what his coach wants him to do during matches — that’s all.”
MHSAA spokesman John Johnson said the association plans to file a response in court.
“The general rule here is that interpreters have always been allowed in regular season and tournament situations,” Johnson told “In wrestling, the interpreter sits with the coaches in the corner. In basketball, the interpreter may stand, along with the head coach, in the coach’s box. In football, the interpreter is allowed in the coach’s box, that 3-yard belt that everyone else is supposed to stay out of. We have historically provided an accommodation for deaf student-athletes.”
The lawsuit asks that the interpreter be allowed to move around so Kempf can see him rather than being in a stationary location.

“What the MHSAA is saying makes absolutely no sense,” attorney Jason Turkish told “They’re saying that Ellis can have an interpreter, but an interpreter that he can’t see. You have to be able to see a sign language interpreter in order to use it. What do they want him to do, to tell his opponent, ‘Hang on one second, let me turn around and look at my sign language interpreter, don’t come at me quite yet.’ It’s ridiculous. It makes no sense.”

Kempf, who wrestles in the 152-pound weight class, has been deaf since age 2 due to meningitis. Cochlear implants allow him some hearing, but he can’t wear the external components during wrestling matches.

The Associated Press contributed to this report 


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