By: Terry Foster
Eric Dompierre is not the next Michael Jordan. He is simply a 5-foot-3, 130 pound human victory cigar who should be allowed to play his senior season at Ishpeming High School next year.
He will never win or lose a game. He will never over power anybody. But the Michigan High School Athletic Association said Dompierre cannot play next season because he is 19 years old and that makes him ineligible to play because he is too old. The rule makes sense because you don’t want mature men playing prep hoops or basketball.
It does not make sense in this case. Did I tell you that Dompierre was born with Downs Syndrome and was held back a year so he could mature enough to do school work? The Ishpeming school district put in a third appeal to the MHSAA to change its constitution and will make a ruling in May. This might be the family’s final strike outside of legal action and the dad Dean told me lawyer fees are not in the family budget.
This time the family argument is that a number of school districts, including Ohio, allow for age exceptions.
Eric Dompierre turned 19 in January. If he turned 19 in September he’d be OK.
“He is just a kid that wants to hang around his class mates and teammates and be one of the guys,” the dad said. “He is OK with playing his two or three minutes now and then.”
This is not a simple case. It is not about the MHSAA bending a rule. It states in the constitution that no one born before a certain date can play if they are 19.
There are only two ways to change the constitution. Two third of the membership counsel must vote in favor of amendment in May. Or if the Ishpeming School District can get a third of membership schools, which includes junior high and high schools to sign a petition, the MHSAA will send ballots to member schools.
Two thirds of ballots returned must vote yes for the measure to change.
I spoke to MHSAA Associate Director Tom Rashid and there is sympathy about this case. But there are dangers if they allow this exception.
“Our hearts go out to this kid and the family. I don’t pretend to walk a mile in their shoes,” Rashid said. “We are not heartless and we know this is very difficult. The other point besides the broadening definition of disability you would be dealing with is how do you measure these things? Do you look at a kid’s weight and maturity? Those who are mature athletes do you deny them and just grant waivers for students who are not as mature. “
I don’t believe there would be a rash of petitions to allow 19 year olds to play. Ohio only averages four a year.
Rashid said the schools are the ones that make the rules and that most do not want to change the rule. Let’s put that theory to the test. Dompierre will probably lose his appeal in May. I say Ishpeming needs to collect the one third signatures from member schools and put it to a vote.
I would hope a vast majority of schools would ignore the boogey man they fear is in the closet and allow exceptions to the rule. I am not a believer that all rules should be iron clad. Sometime we need to use the rule of common sense.
Dompierre is a good kid and a good story. Crowds in the UP go crazy when he checks into games – both home and away. All he does is sit by the three-point line and teammates try to feed him the ball. He has a pretty good shot.
But that’s about it.
Basketball has been very good to Dompierre. He is part of the Ishpeming athletic community. He is accepted by students from across the UP. Sports motivated him to work hard in school because without good grades you can bet his dad the science teacher would not allow him to play. Dompierre wants to go to college and make something of himself.
“Playing sports has made him what he is today,” the dad said. “He has made me and my wife Jill very proud of him. I don’t think he would be where he was if not for sports.”
More than 65,000 people have signed a petition supporting Dompierre at change.org. I encourage you to sign the petition and to pass the word along. More importantly if you are a school athletic director push to get this issue on the ballot for all schools to decide.
If Dompierre plays next season I plan on taking my first trip to Ishpeming to see him play. Let’s hope that happens.