High School Sports

NCHSAA won't waive age rule for football player

Posted August 9, 2011
Updated August 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.


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  • sicntired Aug 10, 2011

    If the rules are bent for just one person, it opens up the door for them to be broken in the future. The rules are put in place for a reason, and they should be followed. Lets celebrate his accomplishment of being a senior in high school, and the fact that he will graduate soon. There is nothing wrong with giving him a jersy to wear during games, and helping out at practice.

  • wildcat Aug 10, 2011

    Rules are rules and should be followed by all. He can wait an join the high school at the proper time.

  • VT1994Hokie Aug 10, 2011

    There is no way under the sun to change this rule, and face a lawsuit down the road. This kid needs to be a manager/water boy and let him enjoy being with the team.

  • shoyaryt Aug 10, 2011

    scorekeep... just like your comment is "smart" for responding to a rhetorical statement.

  • YippiYiyoKiYay Aug 10, 2011

    whistler411.... I think you called that right!

  • Slo-talker Aug 10, 2011

    whistler & others - why can't there be common sense judgment applied to rules exceptions. I don't know what exceptions might be OK. Some would be tough decisions, and I agree that if close then you err on the side of enforcement. It is a far cry from this kid who only wants to dress out (but never play) because this is a simple event in his life that can give him an incredible amount of joy, vs. any exception for a kid who actually wants to play. Sure, making exceptions can soon take you over the edge if proper judgment is not used, but the cliff ain't even in sight in this case.

  • scorekeep Aug 10, 2011

    "willingly accept the full penalty from the NCHSAA." Yes, that's real smart as the team would have to forfiet EVERY game he suited up for. Let's punish the entire team for one kid.

  • scorekeep Aug 10, 2011

    This is NOT a case of discrimmanation! The rule is for EVERYBODY nd EVERY public school!!! THe NCHSAA is doing what it is supposed to do. Who's next if this kid plays? If he gets injured at practice or during a game-his parents would be lining up lawyers. Not to mention-the other students, from years past with the age issue, would be lining up against the NCHSAA.

  • whocares Aug 10, 2011

    If he still goes to the school, then there should not be any controversy as to him suiting up and practicing. Universities do it all the time with players who are red shirted. This young man should be commended for what he is doing rather than being punished. I agree, children with special needs are discriminated against. Adults seem to be more discriminatory than young people. If the team and the coach want him on the team there should be no problem.

  • shoyaryt Aug 10, 2011

    If it's so important to the coach, the school, the team and the community... then continue to dress the kid in full pads, allow him to participate in practice and warm-up drills, keep him on the sideline during the game, allow him to run his touchdown play after the games... AND willingly accept the full penalty from the NCHSAA.