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Online petition supports Orchard Park student’s fight to play football

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Community support is mounting for an Orchard Park High School teen with autism who wants to play football.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says an on-line petition has been posted.

The decision to allow 18-year-old Jacob Kohler to play football now rests in the hands of New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Under the Section VI rules, students are allowed to only four years of sports.  But Kohler and his family say due to his autism, he never played sports his freshman year, even though he is about to begin his fifth year of high school. 

WBFO News spoke with the executive director of Section VI in Western New York Tim Slade.

"The Commissioner of Education in the State of New York allows students to participate in athletics four consecutive years from the date of entry into 9th grade whether they participated in that sport or not,” Slade explained.   

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Orchard Park High School football field.

Slade tells us he’s not sure why the rule is in place. Slade said believes Commissioner Elia has read through the family's appeal and could issuing a decision any day.  

“Well I do believe the commissioner has read it and we anticipate a decision shortly,” said Slade.

The family has worked to appeal with the help of State Senator Tim Kennedy.

"His involvement in sports, his involvement on the football team has had a directive positive on his success in the classroom, so to pull the rug out from underneath him is unacceptable and we are going to fight this until we get a positive result,” Kennedy told WBFO.

“We can’t just arbitrarily disregard the commissioner’s regulations. We have to adhere to those commissioners of education, but there is a process of appeal, which is exactly where we’re at – we are following the process,” noted Slade.

At last check, as of late Monday afternoon. nearly 800-people have signed the on-line petition.  That includes advocacy agencies, People Incorporated and the Development Disabilities Alliance of Western New York.   

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