This inspiring story of a wrestler with Down Syndrome is precisely what improve disabled access is all about

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Much was made of the White House’s clarification that high school sports must be opened up to athletes with disabilities, with both widespread plaudits and some quiet handwringing about how to accommodate teen athletes of less ability than some able bodied athletes who might also be cut.

Jordan wrestler Alex Maughan spars with a teammate — Deseret News
Jordan wrestler Alex Maughan spars with a teammate — Deseret News

Naturally, those quiet concerns miss a significant point from the ruling. The main thrust behind ensuring that disabled athletes are accommodated is for the good of those disabled athletes in question. Still, some of the benefit is intended to fall to the hands of the star athletes on a team, too.

A story penned by the Deseret News’ Amy Donaldson demonstrates precisely how those benefits come to all by incorporating a disabled athlete, spreading throughout a talented Utah wrestling team.

The young disabled athlete who stars in this story is 16-year-old Jordan (Utah) High sophomore Alex Maughan. The sophomore, who has Down Syndrome, is a full-fledged member of the Jordan wrestling team. He competes at meets, where he is often gifted wins in bouts, and in practice every day, where he spars with teammates and helps teach them as much as he learns about his own strength.

Maughan has been a member of the school’s wrestling team since his freshman year, when his mother, Natalie Maughan, emailed Jordan wrestling coach Chris Babinski to ask for a favor. Alex Maughan had grown too large for his family to wrestle with at home, and she was desperate to find an outlet where he could continue to get out his aggression in a controlled setting.

Babinski didn’t even hesitate. He just told her to have Alex show up at practice.

"I have a 16-year-old with a 3-year-old brain," Natalie Maughan told the Deseret News. "He's getting too big for me to manhandle; I thought if I could tell him, when he tried to wrestle people at home, 'Hey, we only wrestle in class,' he would learn where that behavior is appropriate.

"I honestly thought it was a joke [when Babinski told her to send Alex Maughan to practice]. I didn't think that was a possibility. He can wrestle, but he doesn't know any moves. Coach said, 'That's what practice is for.' He was on the team from that point on."

Maughan isn’t necessarily taking a spot from any other teen at Jordan, but he does require special accommodation. Whenever he wrestles at meets, opposing squads have to be particularly careful to ensure that he isn’t hurt in action. Incredibly, Babinski said that each school Jordan had asked to include Maughan in action has done so without hesitation.

The sophomore’s mother told the Deseret News that she didn’t want her son to take away from any other student. She wouldn’t want him to take a spot from another player.

In this case Alex Maughan isn’t doing that. Instead, he’s learning a lot about himself, gaining happiness and an appreciation for his own abilities and hard work in the process.

"He has something to be proud of now," she said. "It isn't just Mom getting exercise for him. He was actually able to wrestle during meets and he lost one and won five. He was given the win, but the other opponents were very kind, and they made him earn it."

She recalled through tears how she watched him celebrate his first victory on a wrestling mat.

"I cried. He was elated," said Maughan. "He called all of his brothers and sisters. He called his birth father. He called everyone and told them, 'I won!' He was very excited."

That is what the White House’s clarification is all about. Prep Rally has been blessed to cover any number of similar incidents in recent years, from Ike Ditzenberger’s touchdown to Owen Groesser’s 3-pointers. They’re all magical moments in prep sports, and hopefully this new ruling will help bring even more.

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