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Hefflefinger and Pratt Speak on 7th Circuit Victory at the NFHS Legal Meeting

05/23/2018

At the Legal Meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), Matt Hefflefinger, Tyler Pratt, and the Executive Director of the IHSA (Illinois High School Association), Craig Anderson, spoke about the IHSA’s recent Seventh Circuit victory which centered on a high school student's claim that the ADA required the IHSA to create a separate division with different qualifying time standards for para ambulatory runners. The student, “A.H.”, who is classified as a T-36 disabled athlete by the International Paralympic Committee, has been a three-sport athlete at Evanston Township High School since his freshman year, and fully participated on the high school’s Track & Field team, requested that the IHSA create a separate division with different time standards for para ambulatory runners in the Sectional and State championship track meets, as well as the annual 5K Road Race. In the first appellate decision of its kind, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the IHSA and unanimously denied A.H.’s Petition for Rehearing En Banc. In its decision, the Seventh Circuit held that:

“[t]he IHSA's time standards, which govern which runners can qualify for the State championship, underscore the essence of the sport: one must run as fast as possible to achieve the predetermined times. According to the IHSA, the qualifying time standards ensure a certain level of competition and maintain a necessary scarcity of opportunity. To lower the qualifying times for State by creating a new division of runners would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the Sectional and State track and field meets, as well as the Road Race.” (see A.H. v. Illinois High School Association)

While the IHSA and other athletic associations remain committed to the inclusion of student athletes with disabilities, the court’s decision confirmed that an association is not legally required to create new standards or opportunities in every instance.

The NFHS serves as a federation of the high school athletic associations from 50 states (and the District of Columbia).