Luis Cruz had been barred from playing high school sports under rules that kept athletes from participating for more than eight semesters. Cruz has learning disabilities, which his attorney argued were the direct cause of his “advanced” age as a high school senior at Ridley High School in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, according to the Legal Intelligencer.
However, Federal Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) to create a process in which it can consider bending the age rule for Luis Cruz.
Buckwalter did not grant Cruz the right to play — just the ability to make his case to the PIAA, a governing body that has the authority to grant such exceptions. However, if PIAA fails or refuses to create a waiver process for Cruz to use, Buckwalter said the injunction would prohibit PIAA from enforcing the age rule against him.
As a disabled student Cruz has an “individualized education plan” that specifically calls for him to participate in sports due to the positive effect it has on helping him to learn social skills and develop responsibility in following rules and keeping schedules.
Last year, Cruz played in two games before school officials realized that he was ineligible due to the age rule. Following that, the PIAA then declared that the two games, both Ridley wins, were forfeited instead. That decision cost Ridley a berth in the playoffs.
The Ridley school district joined Cruz in challenging the ruling, arguing that the PIAA age rule should bend since it violates Cruz’s rights under both the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.
In November, Judge Buckwalter refused to issue an emergency injunction against the “extreme remedy” of the ban, noting a lack of proof that Cruz would suffer “irreparable harm” if he were barred from competitive play, since Cruz could still practice with the team, and suit up for games.
Following the US Supreme Court’s decision in PGA Tour Inc. v. Casey Martin, Buckwalter said that the new test applied in this case. The Martin case was resolved in favor of a disabled golfer who said he needed golf officials to bend their rules against players riding in carts (see Martin Case Puts “Cart” Before the Courts ).
“In Martin, the Supreme Court made clear that a basic requirement of the ADA is the evaluation of a disabled person on an individual basis,” Buckwalter said. That decision offered a three-prong test for such cases, specifically that the requested modification:
- be reasonable
- be necessary for the disabled individual
- cannot fundamentally alter the nature of the competition
After conducting a balancing test, Buckwalter found that “the interests here is clearly in favor of plaintiff. He is entitled to the benefits of the ADA. Denying him the relief he is entitled to under law is not in the public interest.” But the judge said the PIAA still has the right to make the final call as long as it provides Cruz with a chance to make his case.
Buckwalter also said he himself “warmed the bench” often while a member of a high school football team and that he still got a lot out of the experience.
– Nevin Adams &nbs