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School sports sanctioning body commits a foul

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Last week brought the good news that Bitty & Beau’s Coffee will open a location in Savannah, Georgia, its third store. The Wilmington-based company hires folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, working to erase the stigmas that persist for people who cope with such challenges.

Like Bitty & Beau’s, our schools should be doing everything they can to “mainstream” kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Schools succeed, for the most part.

So we find ourselves perplexed and a bit heartbroken at the ruling by the N.C. High School Athletic Association keeping the Topsail High School baseball team out of the playoffs because of a supposedly ineligible player.

At the same time, we applaud the Topsail players and coaches who welcomed a young man who is non-verbal and coping with debilitating anxiety. Playing on the team gave Alex Postma a chance to belong to a group and participate.

Alex is a senior whose family was told he was eligible to play at the beginning of the season, but somehow became ineligible by the end of it. He takes classes through APEX, a program for homebound students. He went from part-time to full-time in the online program during the year, believing all along that he could continue to play with the baseball team.

Now, thanks to troubles with the APEX program and an illness Alex suffered, the team’s 17-6 playoff-qualifying season has been downgraded to 1-22.

The role of the high school’s administration has been sharply criticized by parents of team members. Julie Postma, Alex’s mother, said Principal Berry Simmons told her on May 3 that he’d have to investigate Alex’s status. But the previous day, players said, Simmons had told players and coaches the team had been disqualified.

A call by parents for an investigation led to a statement Monday from the Pender County school system saying it had investigated the situation along with the N.C. High School Athletic Association and found a violation, causing the forfeits. Now the Pender school board has promised another investigation.

Meanwhile, we’re left wondering why the NCHSAA chose to be such a stickler for the rules over such a benign violation — no one was cheating or trying to gain an unfair advantage. This wasn’t a case of a star athlete using a dubious residency to play for a better team, or a kid who had become academically deficient.

Alex takes advanced classes in science and calculus and is applying to college to major in engineering. He is trying his best to succeed in the face of significant adversity — and doing a pretty good job at it. He was used only sparingly and as a courtesy runner, but it meant the world to him to be on the team.

“Baseball just became therapy, and they embraced him like you wouldn’t believe,” Julie Postma said of his teammates.

Alex feels he let the team down, but his classmates assure him it’s not his fault. The players, parents and coaches have stood up for Alex. They fully support their teammate.

Couldn’t the NCHSAA have used its discretion and not punished the team for helping a challenged fellow student, a teenager who wanted nothing more than a chance to feel like an ordinary high school kid? No harm, no foul, right?

Unless something changes, the record book for the 2018 Topsail baseball team will read “1-22.” We hope it has a big asterisk and says, “Despite the listed record, the Topsail team was, in fact, the biggest winner of the season.”

To the players and coaches, we know this ending hurts. But never forget this — you did the right thing. You have done us all proud.

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