Photo: James Mackin
Amara Meister has been obsessed with basketball since he was a little boy. He has cerebral palsy, which affects mobility, muscle control, coordination and balance, so he would practice the sport using cuff crutches.
As a high school student at Hopkinton High School, in New Hampshire, Amara took on the role of the basketball team manager for the Hopkinton Hawks. For four years he supported and motivated his peers in matches and participated in training. He also manages the school soccer team. Local reporter Jean Mackin writes for WMUR9, ABC, "His teammates helped carry him along the rough patches of their annual hiking trip, but they said that in so many ways, he carries his teams."
On Tuesday February 20, Amara was invited to participate in a match for the first time. It was specially organized for the student's on-court debut, on Seniors Night, with another local team from Stevens High School. Amara's teammates, friends and family cheered him on from the bleachers, chanting his name and waving placards with photos of his face, as he attempted his first shot—and scored.
“To be able to watch him be on the court was really neat,” Amara's mom, Catherine Meister said.
“He had a bet with one of his friends (on) how many times it would take to get his first basket, so he got it on his first one. So very proud of him,” added Amara's father, Mark Meister.
Teammate Brooke Carlson said: “That was super emotional for us.”
We applaud the Hopkinton High School community for their team spirit and commitment to inclusion in regular practices. But we'd love to see sports-loving kids with disabilities, like Amara, have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers to participate in leagues and competitive events on a regular basis and not just on special occasions.
A 2012 report showed that only 12 percent of kids with disabilities in US schools were participating in standard phys ed classes, even though schools were required to provide reasonable accommodations. The Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association says in its mission statement: "We believe that people with cerebral palsy should have the opportunity to develop their full athletic potential with the support of trained, knowledgeable coaches."
With appropriate adaptations, kids with cerebral palsy can participate in everything from archery to taekwando to volleyball. The Canadian Paralympic Committee Find Your Sport tool lets parents input their child's disability type, then follow prompts to learn which adapted sports could be a fit for them.
And regardless of our own kids' abilities, if we care about inclusion, as parents, we need to keep pushing within our schools and communities so that for children with disabilities, full participation in sports is not a privilege, but a right.