Gorman: Spirit of rule at stake for life of Riley
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Riley Redman turned 19 on June 26. By definition of the PIAA by-laws, that makes him ineligible to play sports at Central Catholic.
This time, the rule is wrong.
Redman should be allowed to play football this fall, particularly if the people in charge base their decisions on the due date instead of the birthdate.
When the WPIAL Board of Control ruled against Redman last month, executive director Tim O'Malley simply cited the letter of the rule.
“It's the easiest rule to administer because it's so tightly crafted,” O'Malley said. “It's pretty explicit. It says you're ineligible if you're 19, unless it occurs July 1 or after. That's what it says.”
There are, however, five criteria that allow a district to grant a waiver of the maximum age rule, specifically listed in Article 1, Section 3.
The school has to present evidence of the student suffering from a physical, mental or emotional disability — recognized and certified by a treating physician or psychiatrist — and show that it has a direct and significant impact on the student's athletic ability.
Even if the student meets that criteria and has an Individualized Education Plan in place, there are provisions preventing him or her from playing.
One is if the student would make his team more competitive. Another is if his physical presence increase the risk of harm in opponents.
It's hard to argue that Redman, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder who rushed for 1,192 yards and 16 touchdowns as a backup tailback, doesn't give the WPIAL Class AAAA champion and PIAA runner-up Vikings a competitive edge.
If Central Catholic did anything wrong, it was spending too much time presenting Redman's stirring story to the WPIAL board in hopes of meeting that criteria.
Redman was homeless after his house was destroyed by arson, lived in six foster homes and was forced to repeat third grade before moving in with a guardian prior to seventh grade.
“If you want to look at it from a pure scientific standpoint, that says it all,” Central Catholic football coach Terry Totten said. “If you want to look at it from a humanistic standpoint, there's certainly evidence that this kid went through hell.”
Totten speaks fondly of Redman, not as a talented tailback but rather an engaging kid who lights up the locker room with an ever-present smile.
“His progress has been so dynamic at Central,” Totten said. “He's talented, but it's more the personality in the locker room is so incredible.”
Redman said he's been accepted into Central's honors physics program and talks about studying chemistry in college. He would like to play college football, but ...
“That's not my goal,” Redman said. “My goal is to go to college and be successful.”
So, why should adults take sports away from a kid who has overcome so many obstacles in life? Why take Redman away from his football team, the first to give him a real sense of family?
Simply put, they shouldn't.
This case never should have gone to the age-waiver stage. Yes, Redman was born five days before the rule allows. But he also was born eight weeks premature.
“If I was born on my due date,” Redman said, “it wouldn't be an issue.”
When attorney Craig Lee, who represents Redman, asked the WPIAL board to suspend the rule, it fell upon deaf ears. Maybe that's because the WPIAL didn't write the rule. It's merely enforcing PIAA by-laws as they are written.
If the WPIAL had ruled favorably for Redman, it could have opened a can of worms for every 19-year-old trying to gain an extra season of eligibility with a sob story.
Lee will appeal the WPIAL's ruling on Redman before the PIAA Board of Directors on Tuesday in Mechanicsburg.
“Hopefully,” Redman said, “the PIAA lets me play.”
As the father of a boy who was born 11 weeks premature, I can attest to the developmental delays such children experience. Their head start is a hindrance, not an advantage.
That Riley Redman caught up and thrived should be to his credit, not held against him.
A plea to the PIAA: Base this case not on the letter of the rule but the spirit of sport.
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