Disabled athlete sues MSHSL

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2011 - 12:59 AM

Track and field's wheelchair division, which made its debut last spring, treats competitors like outsiders, her family says.

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Rose Hollermann, a sophomore at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, was one of six wheelchair athletes who competed last spring.

Photo: Leah Millis, Special to the Star Tribune

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The Minnesota State High School League created a wheelchair division of three track and field events last spring in the name of integration.

But the family of one athlete who helped spawn those changes considers the rules for competition to be discriminating and creating what her attorney calls "second-class athletes."

MSHSL rules prohibit wheelchair athletes from scoring team points or competing against other athletes on the track. In an effort to change those rules, Michelle Hollermann and her daughter, Rose, have sued the MSHSL for violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Rose Hollermann, a sophomore at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, was one of six wheelchair athletes who competed last spring. She won two state titles (800- and 1,600-meter events) but disliked competing alone much of the season.

According to the suit filed in Hennepin County District Court, Hollermann competed in eight meets. Officials allowed her to compete against other runners on the track in three of her first four meets. She also competed in "mixed races" against other runners in two seasons of junior high track and field. No accidents or injuries were reported.

The Hollermanns' attorney, Justin Page of the Minnesota Disability Law Center, said Rose "not only likes the sense of competition, she doesn't want to add unnecessary length to a meet just for her to compete alone."

Hollermann also wants her finishes to contribute to the team score. Currently, wheelchair athletes can only earn individual medals and honors. Page said Hollermann wants a model similar to Maryland.

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said wheelchair athletes' points are used only in consolidated team scores. Those teams are recognized but do not receive additional medals or trophies.

Sparks said at least 40 percent of schools must have a wheelchair athlete before points can be counted toward the team score.

Minnesota became one of 11 states offering wheelchair track and field at the high school level.

Last week, the MSHSL unanimously approved adding three more wheelchair events, the 100, 3,200 and discus. The MSHSL board discussed direct competition and team scoring. Executive director Dave Stead said he expects those items to be part of the board's next meeting on Feb. 2.

"We're working to accommodate everyone safely," Stead said.

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