Inspiring autistic kicker files suit for fifth year of eligibility based on Americans with Disabilities Act

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In October, Brick Township (N.J.) High senior Anthony Starego was the toast of the town, and arguably all of prep sports. The autistic student came on with fewer than 30 seconds remaining and connected on a game-winning field goal to catapult Brick past rival Toms River (N.J.) North High.

The kick was a milestone achievement for both Starego and the team, which fed off the autistic student’s enthusiasm throughout its campaign. Starego was Brick Township’s impromptu star, and he and the town loved every minute of it.

Now, to play again, he may have to be a star in the courtroom as well.

In a remarkable twist, Starego’s parents have filed suit against the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, claiming that the state governing body’s refusal to grant Starego a fifth year of eligibility violates his civil rights.

As noted by the Newark Star-Ledger, and brought to Prep Rally's attention by Hugging Harold Reynolds, the reasons for Starego’s ban from further New Jersey competition are straightforward. The student has already competed in four years of football at Brick, which will fulfill his traditional eligibility. He also will turn 19 before the forthcoming 2013-14 school year, which would violate NJSIAA age limitations.

Yet, just as there are direct and compelling reasons why Starego should not be allowed to continue kicking, there are others that make an equally powerful case for why he should keep booting away.

Autistic teen kicker Anthony Starego has filed a precedent-setting lawsuit to gain a fifth year of eligibility — Newark Star-Ledger
Autistic teen kicker Anthony Starego has filed a precedent-setting lawsuit to gain a fifth year of eligibility — Newark Star-Ledger

Most significantly, the Staregos point to key tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act which hold that accommodations must be made to include those with learning disabilities in school sports.

The question at hand is whether the NJSIAA has fulfilled those duties to accommodate in a manner that will allow it to limit a student athlete to four years of participation. For their part, the Staregos have already indicated that they would appeal a judgment against them to a federal court.

For now, the family’s lawyer, Gary Mayerson, feels that his client has an excellent chance of overturning standard NJSIAA procedures.

"The law says he’s entitled to [play] unless giving him the accommodation fundamentally alters the game of football," Mayerson said. "And given the particular facts of this case, we don’t think it fundamentally alters the game if we allow Anthony to compete for one more season as a place-kicker. If he were some kind of 380-pound linebacker, it might be a different story."

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