When it comes to sports, Jacob Kohler is a success story. Diagnosed with autism, he entered his freshman year of high school at 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighing just 72 pounds. He had difficulty consuming enough calories in a day to function, had a delay in motor skills and difficulty interacting with others, and ultimately ended up failing all but two of his classes. Because of his size, paired with his developmental delay, he did not participate in any athletics throughout his freshman year.
And then sports came into the picture.
After trying out cross country his sophomore year, he joined the football team the next two years, thrilled at the chance to be part of team. The young man who once struggled to connect socially began making friends, and he started developing by leaps and bounds, not just physically on the football field, but academically inside the classroom. He became dedicated to the sport and to his team, and continued to work out with his teammates even after the season ended to prepare for this upcoming year.
Now finishing out his fifth year, he faces the threat of not being able to lace up with the team that gave him a second chance in so many ways. Under NYSED rules, as a fifth year high school student he is not currently eligible to join the football team. But in those very bylaws, it states that a student's eligibility can be extended if they were affected by an illness or accident. If you ask any of Jake's doctors or psychologists, they'll tell you that the boy who registered in the 1st percentile for both height and weight and spent most of his time in counselors offices, ultimately failing four out of the six academic courses he was enrolled in, had no chance in participating in sports. They'll tell you Jake was not presented with the same athletic opportunities as others of his age and grade, because he was incapable of even acknowledging that they existed due to his struggles with his illness.
As a result, we are asking the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to grant Jake’s appeal for a waiver which will allow him to rejoin the varsity football team.
This is not an issue of a team gaining a competitive advantage from an older player. This is not an issue that can be seen in black and white. Jake is still the average size for a varsity football player; he is 5’9” and 154 pounds. We believe it would be unjust to deny him that same opportunity now, especially after so many benefits of football have been realized in his life.
All kids should have the same opportunities when it comes to playing sports, and your support will send a strong message to thousands of families with children with autism who wish to participate in school athletics but face numerous obstacles and barriers in doing so. My office is dedicated to doing everything we can to make sure Jake gets to step on that field one last season, and we hope you'll share his story with others to send a message to the Education Department: #LetJacobPlay