by: Scott Wickersham Updated:
Cramerton, N.C. - An upset mother called Whistleblower 9 and said her son with autism was being treated unfairly at school.
She said he planned to try out for the football team, but a school administrator told her it wasn't safe and he shouldn't be trying out.
She said the message was clear but when Eyewitness News anchor Scott Wickersham investigated he learned the school now has a very different message.
At first glance, 17-year-old Patrick Stamey appears made for football.
“I like throw and catch and run down as far as I can catch it like this,” Stamey said.
Patrick is also autistic and suffering from Asperger's syndrome.
Amy Blair said her son struggles to fit in at school but feels at home on the football field.
Patrick said he decided to pursue his dream this year and try out for the junior varsity football team at Stuart Cramer High School, in Cramerton.
In preparation, he was working out at the school alongside other students who planned to try out.
Those workouts had been going on since March when Blair said she got a call from the school's assistant principal who saw her son in the weight room.
“(They) basically said they did not think he would be suitable for the team. That it would not be safe for him or others,” Blair said.
In short, he should not work out or try out for the team, she said.
“My heart melted,” she said. “It’s something he's enjoyed. The only real social interaction with a group of his peers,” she said.
“If it happened the way she said it did, that's discrimination,” Blair said.
Julia Sain is an advocate for the disabled and said by law Stamey has every right to try out for the team.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies to any group that gets federal money like a public school and "forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services."
“There are people with disabilities that won’t make the team. But that doesn't mean you won’t give them the chance to try out,” Sain said.
Gaston County Schools denied that Stamey was told to stay away from football.
They said the assistant principal was expressing a safety concern about him in the weight room, but Sain said even that violates Stamey’s rights.
Blair said the call was about more than that.
“(They) basically said they don't want him back,” she said.
Now, the school said Stamey is welcomed in the weight room and to attend tryouts this summer.
Blair knows he may not make the team, but that's not the point.
She said it's about building hope for her son and a little confidence too.
“I enjoy playing for the team for the whole school. (I) like to win trophies,” Stamey said.
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