In a suit filed in federal court, Ellis Kempf, a deaf wrestler for Royal Oak High School is suing the Michigan High School Athletic Association for refusing to allow an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter mat-side during MHSAA-sanctioned matches.
The case is being handled by Nyman Turkish PC, a law firm that specializes in litigation and disability. Jason Turkish, the firm’s managing partner, said the firm is taking the case pro bono.
In the past, during non-sanctioned matches, Ellis was provided an ASL interpreter by the school district. According to PR Newswire the lawsuit is seeking an emergency injunction against the MHSAA in order to prevent it from barring an interpreter in the upcoming season.
Ellis has been deaf since the age of 2 due to meningitis. Cochlear implants allow him some hearing but the external components cannot be worn during matches, rendering him completelydeaf.
“We aren’t seeking money and he doesn’t want an advantage,” says Ellis’ mother. “He just wants to continue using his interpreter so he can understand what his coach wants him to do during matches – that’s all.”
Without the interpreter, Ellis is at a competitive disadvantage against hearing students. He can’t hear his coach shouting instructions on what strategies to employ nor can he tell when matches begin and end.
According to the lawsuit, an MHSAA referee disallowed the interpreter during a match last season. When the family appealed this decision they were told an interpreter might interfere with or block the vision of opposing coaches.
“Ellis just wants a fair fight – literally and figuratively,” Turkish, the managing partner of Nyman Turkish, said. “A student-athlete shouldn’t win or lose a match because he’s deaf – he should win or lose based solely on ability. In our estimation, the priorities of the MHSAA are incredibly misplaced and create a danger for him, which is why we’re seeking injunctive relief in federal court.”
Takara Scott-Johnston. Reprinted with permission from Athletic Business,www.athleticbusiness.