Kicking Down Walls
I can’t begin to tell you how much I love sports. When I was younger sports were a great way to build my confidence so that I could succeed in school. This helped tremendously towards my work ethic when it came to academics and the therapies I took part in. I used to do all the Pee Wee sports and would watch as many professional sporting competitions as I could.
Then, when I was in high school, I became even more engaged in sports when I participated in both tennis and basketball. I loved high school sports so much. That’s why over a year ago when an incident occurred close to home involving a high school athlete, I felt complete empathy. It involved the rise to fame of a fellow New Jersey boy, Anthony Starego. Last October Starego —an young man on the autism spectrum—kicked the game-winning field goal as a placekicker for his high school. A month later, “ESPN College Gameday” highlighted Anthony’s game-winning kick in a featured video titled “The Kick of Hope”.
It wouldn’t be until a few months later that Starego’s rise would stall. In March, Starego’s request for a waiver from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to come back to his high school team for a fifth season was denied. I really feel bad for Starego in this situation. Stego—who will turn 19 this year—has the right under his Individual Education Plan (IEP) to remain in high school until he turns 21. New Jersey has a policy that athletes in high school can only play on a team for eight semesters and until they turn 19. Could you imagine being in a similar situation? Having an ability to do something you love but being denied eligibility and having to sit on the sidelines for three years?
Since this incident, Starego’s family has become active in trying to reverse the decision of the NJSIAA. In April, they filed a federal lawsuit on Starego’s behalf. The lawsuit is based on the premise that it would violate his rights under the American with Disabilities Act by denying him the opportunity to return for another season since he is entitled to remain at the school due to his disability.
As a former high school athlete, this entire situation left me very uneasy. After the months of hope that Starego would end up winning his case, it seems that the odds are now more than ever stacked against him. With this unresolved and school back in session, Starego’s chances of playing again for his team are becoming very slim.
A report a few weeks ago from the Star-Ledger made me understand the point of the NJSIAA a bit more when they discussed that Anthony Starego’s talents would bring an unfair advantage to his team as they consider him to have "college level" kicking skills. It was also noted that keeping him on the team for a fifth year would displace another high school athlete.
The Starego family plans to appeal the decision made and hopes to have Starego back on the team before the season begins. I wish the best for Starego in this situation because I couldn’t imagine being in the same shoes as him. I would have felt totally dejected if I attended a fifth year of high school and couldn’t be part of something I loved. Even if he’s not allowed to play next season I hope he continues to tell his story to help inspire countless of young disabled youth around the country. My heart goes out for the Starego family!