Teen with Specialneeds fights to be on HS Group

Noah Britton, 18, is on the autism spectrum and will attend an extra year of high school. But the NCHSAA has denied a request to allow him to play on the Ashveille High School football team next season. (Photo credit: Noah Britton’s family)

A local family is pushing back against the North Carolina High School Athletics Association’s decision to deny a special needs player the opportunity to be on Ashveille High School football team next season.

Noah Britton has an Individualized Education Plan that allows him to have a modified education program because he has special needs. The 18-year-old is on the autism spectrum and will attend an extra year of high school. Throughout his football career, Britton has only played a few snaps, but his parent said it’s part of being on the team that gives him joy.

“Noah has played just a little over two minutes total — ever. It’s not really playing in the game that is important for Noah. It’s to feel like he’s ready at any time, and it’s the participating in athletics as a whole that’s helped Noah,” his mother Cheri Honeycutt said.

“He went out for spring practice, made the team and that was one of the happiest days for both of our lives,” Noah’s father Chris Britton said.

Noah’s parent said football has taught him crucial life lessons.

“Sometimes, folks with autism have a difficult time participating in a group with others, and he’s learned how to do that,” Honeycutt said.

Wearing jersey No. 70 is important to Noah. He even learned how to ride the city bus so he could attend practices last year.

“I learned to respect my teammates and be there help my guys out,” Noah said.

However, next season Noah will not be on the sidelines. A NCHSAA rule said he is ineligible to play because he has completed eight semesters of high school. Honeycutt thinks her son is being cheated.

“Noah is one of the lucky kids in exceptional learning. He has found something that has brought him so much passion,” Honeycutt said.

She thinks if he is eligible for an additional year of school, he should be eligible for an additional year of spots.

“When I told him he couldn’t play, he told me he was a player not a manager. We talked about him being a manager,” Britton said.

Noah’s parents appealed the NCHSAA decision, but their appeal was denied. They said they were never given an explanation.

“When he does get to play, it’s not very often. But we feel like the North Carolina Athletic Association could let him play but with restrictions that will allow him to practice with the team and only play when the team is up, where no one player could change the outcome of the game,” Britton said.

The parents hope the NCHSAA will change its decision and have started an online petition with a goal of collecting 100 signatures. To support the petition click here.

Asheville High School supported the parents, submitting paperwork for an appeal.

According to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, a student-athlete is eligible for only eight semesters and can participate in no more than four seasons in a particular sport.

The district submitted paperwork on the student’s behalf in regards to their eligibility.

It was denied by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Asheville High School then submitted an appeal; however, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association denied the appeal per their listed student-athlete eligibility requirements.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker’s released this statement:

“The NCHSAA does not comment on specific circumstances of any appeal or decision made on the eligibility of a student-athlete. To provide clarity in our rules, it is important to understand that the rules for athletic participation impact every student, regardless of their status, in the same way. Once a student enters the ninth grade, they have the opportunity to participate in as many sports as they like–provided they remain academically eligible–for the next eight semesters. This applies to every student in the same way.

The only way a student could participate beyond their eighth semester in high school, is to be granted a hardship request. By NCHSAA policy hardship requests shall not be considered for ordinary cases of ineligibility. The conditions that cause the student to fail to meet the eligibility requirement must have been beyond the control of the school, the student and/or his or her parents. Injury, illness, or accident which cause the student to fail to meet one of the basic requirements is a possible cause for hardship consideration. Inability to participate due to illness, injury or other medical causes shall not be considered a hardship. Requests for exception may be considered in those cases where the ineligibility exists because the student was unable to attend or was prohibited from attending school due to medical treatment.”