Brett Bowden, a 19-year-old with Down Syndrome, leads his high school football team in North Carolina onto the field every game. He is beloved by his teammates and has made significant contributions on the gridiron, including a touchdown.
But just prior to the upcoming season, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has ruled him ineligible to play because he is older than 18 years of age, even though he remains eligible to attend public school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to an article in Disability Scoop.
The decision has sparked an outcry in the community, especially with his teammates on the Hobbton High School football team.
“Brett means the world to me, I promise you. He’s my inspiration,” one Hobbton player told WWAY-TV. “When I come on Friday nights and he leads us out the tunnel, that’s telling me that it’s time for me to play and do what I got to do… for him.”
A Facebook group, titled Let Brett Bowden Play, has more than 60,000 members.
After hearing Bowden’s story, James Terry, coach of an arena football team, the Reno Barons, said he wants to give Bowden a chance to play on his team.
“I have a real opportunity here in the position that I am in football to help somebody who loves the game as much as I do, to really help a family and a young man who can get more from this than I ever did,” Terry said. “I played professionally and collegiately, and I envy this kid, because I think he gets more out of being part of this team than any of us could possibly imagine.”