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Michigan high schooler with Down syndrome gets new shot at playing hoops

Eric Dompierre

Nearly 100,000 online supporters have expressed their support of letting Eric Dompierre, 19, of Ishpeming, Mich., play sports during his final year at Ishpeming High School, even though the rules say student athletes who are 19 as of Sept. 1 are ineligible for sports.  (YouTube/TV6/FOX UP)

A Michigan high school student with Down syndrome deemed too old to play basketball in his upcoming senior season may get a shot after all, has learned.

Eric Dompierre, a 19-year-old junior at Ishpeming High School, received new hope on Monday when the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) announced it was asking its member schools to make an exception and waive its maximum age limitation under “narrowly defined” circumstances. The move came after an Internet campaign generated nearly 100,000 signatures supporting Dompierre's right to suit up as a senior.

“I told him yesterday after school and he seemed very pleased,” Eric’s father, Dean Dompierre, told “This whole process has been great for him. He’s empowered and feels as if he’s helped himself.”

No student is currently permitted to complete in MHSAA athletics if the student turns age 19 prior to Sept. 1. Dompierre, who plays on the boy’s varsity basketball and football teams, was held back in kindergarten and first grade.

“This whole process has been great for him. He’s empowered and feels as if he’s helped himself.”

- Dean Dompierre

“We have prepared for a vote of the membership what we believe is the best alternative — better for Michigan than any proposal we have reviewed from other sources,” MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts said in a statement. “The Representative Council does not advance proposals it does not want the membership to support, and an affirmative vote by schools is being specifically requested on this proposal.”

The MHSAA did not disclose the proposal’s specific language, but said it would be posted on its website no later than Monday. Ballots will be mailed to 19 member schools this week and the proposal must receive support of two-thirds of those to pass. The organization said it will have no further comment until it announces the results, no later than May 31.

Dompierre’s initial two requests for the rule change were denied in 2010 and 2011. In April, widespread community support grew for the extra point kicker and guard/forward. Nearly 100,000 digital signatures have been collected in support of Dompierre on the “Let ‘Em Play” website dedicated to his cause.

If allowed to play in his senior season, Dompierre’s father expects his son’s role to “stay the same” on both teams, he said. He’ll continue to kick extra points on a football team that usually attempts two-point conversions and will float near the three-point line to hoist his trademark jump shot.

“He has his spot out on the wing and his teammates work so hard to get him the ball,” Dean Dompierre said. “They know where he’s going to be.”

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