PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local high school student filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, or the PIAA.
Alex Brown tells KDKA he wants to spark change, and that it’s time the PIAA catches up in the race to inclusion.READ MORE: Study: Nearly 26,000 Kids Sit On Child Care Waitlists Across Pennsylvania
He talked exclusively with KDKA’s Meghan Schiller about why he’s challenging the PIAA’s definition of an athlete.
“Because their definition of an athlete is somebody that’s able to do it on 2 feet and not on 2-3 wheels like I might do it, but that’s going to change with this.”
He tells KDKA he loves his high school track and field team at North Catholic. He’s exceedingly competitive and wants to earn a spot at the state’s track and field championships, but there’s one main thing holding him back and he says, it’s not his wheelchair.
The North Catholic sophomore suffered a spinal stroke at the age of 4. His mother, Amy, says they learned to adapt.
“We told Alex whenever he got sick that he can do anything he wanted to, but he might do a little differently than others and I feel like this lawsuit is exactly that,” said Brown.
The class-action lawsuit asks for “equal opportunity” for wheelchair athletes to qualify for and, upon qualification, compete in the PIAA’s track and field championships- known as states. Attorney Kevin Tucker filed the suit.READ MORE: 17-Year-Old Hospitalized After Penn Hills Shooting
“Honestly, it was an issue that I never thought about. I do ADA work all the time and the intersection of ADA and high school sports and it never crossed my mind, so to realize that PA didn’t make this accommodation but 27 or 30 other states, including Ohio do, just blew my mind.”
Alex competes regularly in both shot-put and the 100-meter sprint.
“The school is able to give me as much as it possibly could to be able to contribute. As much as they possibly could, but now it’s up to the state.”
He says it’s now up to the state to allow him to advance past local meets and participate in states this spring, like his teammates.
The PIAA tells KDKA it did adopt an ADA-compliant wheelchair participation policy several years ago. Alex tells KDKA he’s not looking for a participation trophy.
“I know people that are in Ohio that can contribute to their teams like this, and I just can’t do it over here and all their programs are so adaptive, and they’ve been built up for years, that have all the parameters in place. Here we have nothing and it’s going to take time to get that in place, but this is the start of that.”
Alex’s mom tells KDKA the lawsuit is an injunction, meaning it’s asking for change. She said a lawsuit was needed in Ohio to change the rules around wheelchair athletes, so she hopes it prompts a conversation in Pennsylvania as well.MORE NEWS: FBI Pittsburgh Launches Campaign Urging People To Report Hate Crimes
The PIAA did not provide a comment saying KDKA’s inquiry about the matter, it was the first opportunity it had to hear such a request.