HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — A decision to bench a double-amputee high school basketball player over fears he might hurt somebody is sparking outrage among supporters who say the Colorado student should be rewarded for his courage and allowed to play.
The Colorado High School Activities Association told Bailey Roby earlier this month that his days of competition were over after game officials balked when they learned Roby didn't have an official letter of authorization to play at Mountain Vista High School in a suburb south of Denver.
Players on both teams have applauded his skill and effort. Home fans chant his name. Opposing fans forget the score and cheer in appreciation. He even has his own hashtag on Twitter, #LetBaileyRobyHoop.
At the heart of the issue is a national high school rule that bans players with prosthetic devices if they place opponents at a disadvantage or increase the risk of injury to the athlete or others, according to a story first reported by the Highlands Ranch Herald.
The Colorado High School Activities Association that regulates sports in public schools says it's the risk of injury and the accompanying liability that prompted the decision to bench Roby.
"Nobody wants to tell anybody that they can't play a sport," said CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann. "We have an obligation to protect the students. A large part of the things we have to do is to deal with the safety of others."
Comparisons have been made to Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympian from South Africa.
Roby, 18, was born missing a crucial bone in each leg and with only three toes on each side. Doctors amputated both legs below the knee when he was 7 months old. He was fitted with prosthetic limbs at 1.
Starting in eighth grade, Roby played on Mountain Vista's Unified Sports basketball team, which includes kids with special needs. He proved such a good shooter that he made the junior varsity last year, the Denver Post reported Friday (http://tinyurl.com/mhun6wa).
When safety concerns were raised during the junior varsity schedule, the association gave him a letter of authorization, but his jump this year to the varsity team with bigger, faster and stronger competition brought worries to the surface.
No one raised the issue during the early part of the season when Roby appeared in a handful of games, but game officials questioned Roby's eligibility before a Jan. 14 contest.
Mountain Vista agreed not to play him that night. The next day, the school discussed the situation with the association, and the sanctioning body declined to approve his participation.
His coach says he sees both sides of the issue.
"I've got mixed feelings about it," Mountain Vista coach Bob Wood said. "I can understand the CHSAA side of it. They are liable for his safety. If he got hit wrong, something bad could happen."
But Roby, who is used to the rough-and-tumble of competitive sports and has never seen his prosthetic legs cause injury, is frustrated by the decision.
"It just doesn't make any sense at all," he said.
He played in last Friday's game against Littleton High School, the first home game in which he had seen varsity action, after athletic director Pat McCabe negotiated a one-game waiver. Roby's parents got additional padding for the prosthetic legs and McCabe huddled with the Littleton athletic director and coach, explained the circumstances under which Roby might play, and got their consent.
With Mountain Vista well ahead, Roby entered the game with a little less than four minutes to play. Although he generally seeks out his jump shot, he scored on a layup to the delight of the home crowd, which chanted, "Bay-lee! Bay-lee!"
"It made me feel happy to be out there in front of all the other students," said Roby, who also performed in front of visiting out-of-town relatives. "I'd been waiting for that chance to play in my first home game."
Now, despite the earlier ruling, there's a chance Roby could see further action on a game-by-game basis, as long as Mountain Vista and its opponent have an agreement to ensure safety.