Jonathan Hart

Runner with Cerebral Palsy Gets Lapped in Court

An Illinois high school senior is fighting to make his lifelong dream a reality, but this track star has one major hurdle to jump over. Aaron Holzmueller, of Evanston Township High School, is challenging the Illinois High School Association upon its decision to not implement a category that would allow para-ambulatory runners, or those with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs, to compete in the state meet, as they have in swimming and even track for athletes in wheelchairs.

Other states have adopted qualifying standards for the same population, but Illinois says it could open a Pandora’s box. If they allow there to be a division for para-ambulatory runners, then other conditions would have precedent to create their own division. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with the state association. “Simply put, the qualifying times ensure that the state championship meet is reserved for the best and fastest runners in Illinois,” the court wrote. “The odds are overwhelming that runners like [Holzmueller] would not meet the qualifying times even if they were not disabled.”

Illana Rovner, the lone dissenter on the panel of three, argued that the same concept is applicable to the female competitors, as they don’t ask to compete for the same championship as males, but have their own separate category. “If such a female athlete filed a lawsuit seeking to have a separate category for female runners with different qualifying times, she would not have been asking to be guaranteed a spot in the state finals, but rather she would be asking to have the same opportunity to participate as her male peers,” she wrote.

Two of the IHSA’s core beliefs are that “each individual is important” and “respect, appreciation, and acceptance of diversity.” Unfortunately for this athlete, it seems those covenants need not apply to this situation. Executive Director of IHSA Craig Anderson noted in a statement that member schools should request new competitive categories, as the association is committed to inclusion.

Even though the case didn’t go in Holzmueller’s favor, the ruling does not impede the IHSA from considering implementing such divisions in the future. It simply means member schools will have to be the ones to decide. The family is considering future appeals based on the strength of the dissent that Rovner provided. Sadly, even if the appeal succeeds, it will come after this year’s competition for Hollzmueller.

“I want the opportunity to compete,” Holzmueller said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I want someone else to have that opportunity, even if I’m not the one.”

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