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MIAA

MIAA reverses decision in eligibility case for students with learning disabilities

Jack Gill (right) is a senior at Catholic Memorial, and Colmn Gilroy a senior at Archbishop Williams. Both athletes were denied the opportunity to play sports in their final year of high school.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Two high school seniors with learning disabilities whose supporters alleged the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association discriminated against them by barring them from playing high school sports have been cleared to compete after the association reversed its decision.

Jack Gill, a wrestler at Catholic Memorial, and Colmn Gilroy, a basketball player at Archbishop Williams, received the news late Tuesday and practiced with their teams Wednesday. The MIAA, the governing body for athletics at 383 Massachusetts high schools, also cleared Gill to compete in track and field in the spring.

“It has been an answer to our prayers!” the boys’ mothers, Jacqueline Gill and Marcella Sliney, said in a statement. “We are overjoyed and thankful that Jack and Colmn can play for their teams. It was an overwhelming relief and joy for them.”

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The decision follows a Globe story in November in which the boys’ supporters said the MIAA unjustly denied them eligibility waivers by determining they had voluntarily repeated the ninth grade at MIAA schools after transferring from the Carroll School in Wayland, a private learning center that specializes in educating students with dyslexia.

“Catholic Memorial is thrilled that Jack and the other Carroll students are now able to play both winter and spring sports,” the school said in a statement.

The denial came amid the MIAA’s crackdown on private schools seeking eligibility waivers for students to play a fifth year of high school sports. Gill and Gilroy, both 18, had played only three years of high school athletics, but the MIAA ruled in its original decision that by repeating the ninth grade the boys had exhausted their eligibility.

Phil Napolitano, the MIAA’s assistant executive director in charge of eligibility waivers, said he reversed the initial decision after meeting with Dennis Duggan, the president of Archbishop Williams, and representatives of the Carroll School, as well as reviewing new documentation provided by the schools and families.

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Napolitano said he based his initial decision on school transcripts that clearly stated the boys had successfully completed the ninth grade at the Carroll School before they repeated the grade at MIAA schools. Upon further review, he found that their ninth grade experience at Carroll School should more aptly have been considered a high school readiness program.

“I made the determination that their post-eighth grade year at the Carroll School was not a traditional ninth grade year,” Napolitano said. “It was a supplemental program intended to prepare the kids for the ninth grade at a traditional high school.”

As a result, he said he determined the boys “are in their fourth year of high school, not their fifth,” thereby making them eligible to compete this year.

Napolitano described it as a unique case that required considerable collaboration to resolve.

“In the eligibility process, not every decision is going to go the way that a family or student hopes, but we don’t just dig our heels in,” he said. “We want to make sure we get things right.”

Archbishop Williams opens its basketball season Tuesday at Bishop Stang. Catholic Memorial’s wrestling team is scheduled to compete in a tournament Saturday in Ashland.

Duggan applauded the MIAA for reconsidering its decision. He praised Carroll School officials for their cooperation as well as Eugene Ward, the former head of St. Joseph Prep in Brighton, which Gilroy attended from the ninth to 11th grade before the school closed and he transferred to Archbishop Williams.

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“We were able to find a pathway to what we all wanted, which was to do the right thing: to preserve the [MIAA’s waiver rule] and make sure these kids got the year of eligibility they were entitled to,” Duggan said. “We’re thrilled with the outcome. Everybody won.”

Because students at the Carroll School do not participate in high school sports, Gill and Gilroy developed their athletic skills at MIAA schools. Gill was a captain of Catholic Memorial’s wrestling team last year and a Catholic Conference all-star. He also competes in the shot put and discus events in spring track and field. He played football for CM last year in a backup role, but the MIAA’s decision came too late for him to return to the team this year.

Gilroy, at 6-foot-7, averaged 8.5 points and 7.9 rebounds a game last year in helping St. Joseph Prep post a 22-2 record and reach the Division 4 state title game.

Neither student is considered a Division 1 college athletic prospect, but their families and school officials say participating in sports is vital to their development, particularly because of their learning disabilities.

“Sports teaches life lessons, it builds perseverance and resilience, its builds friendships, and it gives hope to kids with dyslexia that they can be a contributing part of a school community outside the classroom,” their mothers said. “To all the parents of dyslexic kids: There is hope. Do not despair. Persevere.”

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Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.