One of the inspirations I’ve gleaned from attending student concerts at Durham NC’s Riverside High School comes from witnessing the joyful inclusion of participants who have Down syndrome, many of them older in age than their peers. It is a life lesson as important as any other this incredible student body is learning.
It crossed my mind as I read this week’s Sports Illustrated and came to the column that award-winning journalist Phil Taylor writes for the end of each issue aptly named for anyone who follows American football, The Point After.
The column is about Eric Dompierre, a sub with Down syndrome who plays on the Ishpeming (Mich.) High basketball team and who, under current state rules, will not be allowed to play during his senior year. Ishpeming is in that slice of Michigan that stretches over on top of Wisconsin and under Lake Superior.
Eric's father, Dean Dompierre, is spearheading a campaign designed to get the state athletic association that governs Ishpeming High to bend the rules so that eligibility can be extended under certain circumstances such as his son's. Almost 80,000 people have signed Mr. Dompierre's petition which can be accessed at the end of this blog.
Maximum-age rules are there for good reason as evidenced by a segment on 60 Minutes recently about parents who try to red shirt (hold back) their kindergarten-age children a year not so they can catch up but so they can seem smarter than peers when they enter primary school and outperform peers in sports.
Back when I was in high school in the mid-1960s, I remember when we played teams from Pocatello (ID) High and Garfield (WA) High how huge they were and how many had full face beard stubble when we played them. We swore they must be 25, honest!
Rules by their nature should be designed to create fairness and prevent abuse, but they are also meant to bend where exceptions are clearly warranted such as Mr. Dompierre’s case. About two dozen states grant exceptions to the maximum-age rule and I hope Michigan is added to that list soon.
I remember my first conversation with now-retired human relations consultant David Camner of Performance Management Inc. in 1999. After auditing with high praise the personnel manual and policies used by the organization for which I was then chief executive, he suggested I read a newly published book entitled First Break All The Rules.
The book isn’t an argument against rules but about how and when to make exceptions. I share a mentor with the authors, the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton, the father of “strengths psychology” and founder of Selection Research Inc. which acquired Gallup Research just as I was recruited to Durham in the late 1980s.
People afraid of bending rules sometimes just hide behind them to avoid thinking or risks. But more often they’ve just witnessed too many people, as I have, who seem amoral or unethical and who base all of their decisions and actions on “who’s asking” or get their way by bullying or manipulating others.
Rules and data-based decision making can help mount a defense against such people, such as this but it does no good to fortress off a world based on these jerks. They go only by their own rules which are usually based on win/lose.
The book describes much better ways to deal with people who abuse or disrespect rules and who are constantly looking for ways to dip into the buckets of others by gaming the system.