Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dad/Coach Not Allowed to Coach from Wheelchair

It didn’t take high-dollar lawyers — though they offered — to resolve a dispute between a youth football club and a coach with a disability.

Ultimately it boiled down to an apology and an agreement forged during a face-to-face meeting on Friday.

The Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County apologized to assistant coach Merrill Staton, who was told that his motorized wheelchair posed a safety hazard for players. The club agreed to drop a rule that required the coach to have an adult work alongside him at all times during games.

“The remainder of the coaching staff will increase their already heightened awareness of players on the field that may need additional protection due to a play extending out of bounds and possibly coming in contact with Mr. Staton’s wheelchair,” the club said in a statement.

Club leaders said that the heightened awareness will address their safety concerns.

“The club has apologized to Mr. Staton and recognizes that poor communications from members of the club with him were the source of a misunderstanding of the issues,” the club said.

Staton learned about the rule on Sunday just as his second-grade son was set to hit the field. He had planned to appeal the decision.

As word of the story traveled, parents, members of the disability community and others offered to join him at his appeal. The story gained national attention and caused disability advocates to take note.

“I have had at least 20 attorneys offer me pro bono services,” Staton said.

But the Overland Park man has stressed from the beginning that he didn’t want a monetary windfall. Staton, who has a progressive neurological disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, simply wanted the chance to coach his boys, ages 7 and 5, while he’s healthy enough to do it.

On Friday, Staton said he’s satisfied with the agreement and can’t wait for the weekend games.

“It’s going to be a big deal,” he said. “I left last week because of the whole ordeal. We lost the game, and from my understanding it was a pretty somber game.”


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