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Franklin senior ponders getting in game

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Logan York is a sports fanatic who grew up playing football and baseball.

He enjoys wrestling, track and field and recently developed a skill for throwing the shot put.

A versatile athlete, he lifts weights four times a week, practices the shot put when he can and is always on the lookout for new physical challenges.

York uses a wheelchair after a car accident in 2011 left him paralyzed.

But varsity athletics are on his radar.

“Oh, yeah. I got done with my robot therapy a couple of weeks ago, so I’m looking for something new to do,” said York, a 17-year-old Franklin Community High School senior who is considering trying out for the boys track team.

If he decides to try out, he has the support of the Franklin athletics department.

Following directives from the U.S. Education Department to include students with physical disabilities in sports programs, school officials are prepared to clear a path for York — just like they did last spring, when he first inquired about throwing the shot put.

That requires school officials to get approval from the Indiana High School Athletic Association that York’s participation in the sport would not put him in danger or give him an advantage over other athletes.

All six of Johnson County’s public high schools have non-discrimination policies for sports participation, according to the schools’ athletics directors.

But only one — Franklin — has had a disabled student who wanted to try out for a sport. That was York last spring.

Franklin athletics director Kip Staggs began the process of petitioning the IHSAA to make an accommodation. But York had a physical setback at the last minute and wasn’t able to try out.

But with that health issue in his wake, York is contemplating another try.

And school officials are prepared to again assist if he requests.

York hasn’t decided whether to pursue the opportunity to throw the shot put on Franklin’s varsity team. He was close to doing it last year but, as the season neared, had to have surgery to replace two broken screws and have two rods inserted into his fractured spine.

York is paraplegic. In July 1, 2011, he was a backseat passenger riding home from a fireworks show with friends when the car crashed. His injuries caused him to lose some or all of the feeling in his arms, legs and torso.

Before the crash, York was a multisport athlete who likely would have played two or more varsity sports at Franklin. At first, the accident appeared to rob him of his opportunity to compete.

Now, the opportunity is there. For that, he not only is grateful but also feels like he could be an inspiration to others and has gotten lots of encouragement from his classmates.

He plans to attend college and might compete at that level, whether or not he tries again at Franklin, he said.

“It’s not like I can’t do it anymore,” York said. “A lot of the student body encourages me to do different things and try to do stuff. I work out on my own right now, but if I was to do track, I would go to track practice and practice like everybody else.”

Staggs was confident the IHSAA was prepared to grant a waiver last season and has in the past for disabled athletes in similar circumstances.

“We were willing to take a look at it and offer that opportunity for him to do that,” Staggs said. “I feel like the IHSAA was open to it. There was a willingness to help, a willingness to find a solution, so long as it wasn’t a competitive advantage.”

Creating opportunity, without altering the fundamental nature of a sport, is the crux of the Education Department’s mandate to make “reasonable modifications,” or offer alternative programs, for students with disabilities who want to participate in sports. It is a directive that local schools, as well as the IHSAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations, insist they follow.

York’s chances of getting approval from the IHSAA are reasonably good, if recent history is an indication.

In 2009, the IHSAA established its Risk and Competition Committee that, among other tasks, examines inquiries from disabled students who want to participate in a particular sport. During that time, according to IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox, the committee has received two formal requests: one from a wheelchair student who wanted to play baseball, and another from a wheelchair student who wanted to participate in the 3,200-meter race in track and field.

For safety reasons, the committee denied the baseball request. But it granted the track request after determining the wheelchair didn’t lend a competitive advantage and safety wasn’t compromised.

Cox said the IHSAA, which recently formed a partnership with Special Olympics Indiana that encourages member schools to participate in Special Olympics events, embraces the concept of making sports more widely available to students with disabilities.

“This topic has moved to the forefront of that agenda,” Cox said. “We’re going to have to give this more thought, more study, bring in various groups and try to create an opportunity for every kid to try out if they want to try out for a team and then make sure it’s safe and strikes a competitive balance.”

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