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Matthew Whaley's Story

Play Ball! ADA Protects the Rights of Kansan to play baseball.


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Matthew Whaley was a 7-year-old Kansas boy with Cerebral Palsy who wanted what many kids his age wanted, to play little league baseball. Matthew had some mobility challenges, but he requested no rule changes or accommodations. He just wanted to play ball. Unfortunately, the Scott City Recreation Commission refused to allow Matthew to play because of his disability. His mother, Jennifer, knew that it wasn’t right to exclude Matthew simply because of his disability. She contacted the Disability Rights Center of Kansas (DRC) for information about Matthew’s rights under the law.

The DRC’s legal team met with Jennifer and Matthew, recognized that excluding him from a youth recreation activity was a violation of Matthew’s civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and agreed to represent him in court. Under the ADA, all public programs or services, even recreational sports, must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

After hearing the evidence, U.S. District Court Judge J. Thomas Marten looked at Matthew in the courtroom and said, “Matthew, you’re going to play baseball this summer.” Judge Marten imposed a preliminary injunction ordering the commission to allow Matthew to join the team and play ball. “Little league baseball is not just about fielding skills, hitting skills and winning. It’s about character and teamwork and toughness,” Judge Marten told Matthew. Matthew was allowed to play little league. Later, he would also coach pitch baseball along with his older brother Travis.

The ruling is a positive precedent for all Kansans with disabilities. It helped re-enforce the rights of all people with disabilities under the ADA and ensure full integration into all of society, including public programs and services, such as recreational opportunities. As news of the decision began to be heard far and wide, Matthew’s notoriety as a pioneer for the rights of people with disabilities grew. He received an autographed baseball from George Brett, a former Kansas City Royal and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius contacted Brett and asked if he would sign the ball in recognition of Matthew’s courage to stand up and fight for his rights.

The next summer, Matthew was honored in Washington D.C. at a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Matthew and Jennifer provided testimony to a Congressional briefing which was co-sponsored by the Congressional Disability Caucus and the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities. Matthew’s story was so compelling that it was picked up by the national media and was even featured as a case example of what is good about the ADA on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“It meant a lot to have that honor because it is more than just a small issue with Matthew. We hope that our case will give other parents the courage to see that it is OK to stand up for their rights and their children’s rights,” Jennifer said.

In addition to addressing the Congressional briefing and telling their story to a national audience, Matthew and Jennifer met with members of the Kansas Congressional Delegation to educate them on the importance of the ADA.

“I was delighted to meet Matthew in Washington,” said Senator Pat Roberts. “He’s a courageous young man. His story is proof positive of the need for the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Persons with disabilities should not be discriminated against in the workforce, in the academic world, or even on the baseball field. Matthew’s persistence to play gives other youth the opportunity to overcome any hesitation, and step up to the plate.”

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