WASHINGTON, EAU CLAIRE, Wisc (WEAU, AP) -- The Education Department says students with disabilities must be given a fair shot to play on a traditional sports team or have their own leagues.
That message was being delivered to the nation's schools on Friday. The order is reminiscent of the Title IX expansion four decades ago of athletic opportunities for girls and women and could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.
Students with disabilities who want to play for their school could join traditional teams if officials could make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate them.
But if those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the department is directing the school to create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing to mainstream programs.
Cullen Connolly of Eau Claire was born with Duchenne muscular dystrohpy a degenerative muscle disorder.
But he hasn't let that or the hour and a half drive to Golden Valley Minnesota keep him from playing his favorite sport, power soccer with his Blizzard teammates.
"They want to be able to play soccer like everyone else," Connolly said.
"This ruling supports the fundamental right for everyone to be able to have a fair shot at playing in sports," Special Olympics of Wisconsin Director of Development Karen Kraus said. "This helps focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities."
Coaches said the national focus would strengthen and expand existing programs, and create many new ones.
Eau Claire Memorial high school wrestler Alberto Larabee who is cognitively disabled, said being in sports makes him feel more included.
"I wanted to participate because it kinda looked fun and to do stuff with the guys," Larabee said.b "Disability kids shouldn't be able to be left out."