Aug 11, 2011
Despite public momentum building that an age restriction be waived so a Sampson County teenager can suit up with his high school football team, the agency that regulates prep sports in North Carolina says there's nothing it can do.
"We want what's best for this young man, but if we make this one exception, where does it end?" Davis Whitfield, commissioner for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, said Tuesday.
Brett Bowden is a junior with Down Syndrome at Hobbton High School in Newton Grove and has been a part of the varsity football team for two years, participating in practices, cheering from the sidelines and even running a touchdown play after games.
But school athletics administrators told his parents last week that he can no longer wear football shoulder pads because it violates a NCHSAA regulation that limits the age students can participate in sports to 18.
Brett recently turned 19, and his mother, Pat Bowden, and teammates say they are heartbroken by the rule. They want the NCHSAA to make an exception.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 5,500 people had joined the Facebook page "Let Brett Bowden Play," and nearly 1,000 people had added their names to an online petition.
Whitfield said nothing prohibits Brett from wearing a jersey, sitting on the sidelines or being a member of the football team in any other capacity.
He simply can't wear the pads, otherwise he would be considered a player.
"The rule would become void, because you would be making consistent exceptions," Whitfield said. "We have to be consistent in how we address this manner."
School officials say there's nothing they can do.
Anne Johnson, director of Sampson County Schools' exceptional children's program, said the football team can't be part of Brett's individual education plan, because football isn't part of school curriculum and because the school system doesn’t have the authority to override NCHSAA rules.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction did not respond Tuesday to WRAL News' request for comment.
Meanwhile, Hobbton High had its first scrimmage Tuesday evening, and Brett was there but without his pads.
Pat Bowden said that her son doesn't understand the change and that her family will keep fighting for him.