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Deaf Royal Oak high school wrestler sues MHSAA

Posted: 6:43 PM, Dec 03, 2015
Updated: 2015-12-03 18:43:47-05

A high school wrestler has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

The senior at Royal Oak High School says he is deaf, and that shouldn’t be a problem. It has become one during meets because the MHSAA is restricting his use of sign language interpreters. 

“It is not fair,” said Ellis Kempf, of the rule.

Kemp says at meets sponsored by his school his sign language interpreter is allowed to move around the outside of the wrestling mat.  At MHSAA sponsored meets that is not allowed. The MHSAA says the interpreter must be in Kempf’s coach’s designated corner.

“That’s not going to work. I can’t see,” said Kempf.

“They are saying Ellis can have an interpreter he can’t see. He can have an interpreter if the interpreter stands behind his back. That does Ellis no good,” said Attorney Jason Turkish.

So why does the MHSAA have this rule?

The MHSAA says it is for the safety of interpreters. At tournaments there are often several wrestling mats lined up next to each other. While it is rare for wrestlers to go outside the boundaries and collide with each other as an official can stop the action, the MHSAA says an interpreter circling the mat likely would not see competitors from another mat coming toward her or him.

"The MHSAA allows and always has allowed interpreters for the deaf in wrestling,” said Geoff Kimmerly, an MHSAA spokesperson.  "This student has been competing in high school wrestling with the aid of an interpreter for three seasons. There are some limitations on where interpreters can move during competition, especially at large tournaments with multiple mats in close proximity, so the interpreter does not get in the way of coaches, officials and competitors. This is a safety concern. These accommodations have been used for other deaf wrestlers without problems in the past."

Ellis says the only person getting hurt is him. He points to the fact his record shows he is more likely to win wrestling tournaments that allow sign language interpreters.

“There have been times I lost first place because I didn’t know what was going on,” said Ellis.