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High school wrestler sues athletic association


A deaf high school wrestler is suing the Michigan High School Athletic Association for the right to have a sign language interpreter alongside the mat during tournaments.

Ellis Kempf, 18, is the wrestling squad captain at Royal Oak High School. He’s been deaf since the age of two due to meningitis, and can’t wear his hearing aids during matches. Kempf used a sign language interpreter alongside the mat until the Michigan High School Athletic Association said that’s not allowed.

Attorney Justin Turkish says that’s a violation of state and federal protections for people with disabilities.

“He’s just asking for a sign language interpreter so that he could understand his coach’s instructions and know when the match starts and stops,” he says, adding the mat-side interpreter is necessary “…so that he can compete on a level playing field. So that he is being judged on his ability to be wrestler, not his inability to hear. All Ellis is looking for in this lawsuit is a fair fight.”

An MHSAA spokesman would not comment specifically on the lawsuit, but says its rules do allow interpreters to stand with the coaches during meets. Turkish says that often puts the interpreter out of the wrestler’s line of vision.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court in Detroit. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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