Jonathan Schomaker uses a wheelchair to compete in track and cross-country for Leavitt Area High School. On Friday, the Maine Principals’ Association reversed its initial ruling and decided to allow him to participate in the regional and state championships, albeit in a separate race by himself. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A wheelchair athlete will be allowed to compete at the regional and state high school cross-country championships after the Maine Principals’ Association on Friday reversed its initial ruling that had denied his request to participate in the races.

Jonathan Schomaker, a sophomore at Leavitt Area High in Turner, will be able to compete, albeit in a separate race in a wheelchair division, Mike Bisson, head of the MPA’s cross-country committee, said on Friday.

However, Schomaker’s father has said in the past that his son wants to compete alongside his teammates and on Friday Jon Schomaker maintained that position.

“If that’s going to be what they’re offering, it’s going to end not so well because that’s absolutely not acceptable,” Jon Schomaker said after learning of the MPA’s new ruling. “It’s blatant segregation. There’s no way around it.”

The MPA said it has no precedent for decisions regarding wheelchair participants at its cross-country championships. The South regional and state championships will be held at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, respectively.

Jonathan Schomaker, 15, has cerebellar hypoplasia, a rare neurological condition that affects muscle tone and coordination. He has been competing for Leavitt alongside his teammates at regular season meets, with his father behind him ready to assist if necessary.

Leavitt’s Jonathan Schomaker competes in the Mt. Blue Relays on Friday in Farmington. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Regular-season courses or routes have been modified to accommodate Jonathan or in the interest of time, such as at Friday’s Mt. Blue Relays in Farmington, when Schomaker’s leg of the relay was one mile compared to the two miles run by the other athletes.

After Schomaker was not allowed to compete in the regional and state meets a year ago Leavitt appealed to the MPA to let him to compete in those meets this fall. In late September, the MPA denied the appeal, citing safety concerns for Schomaker and runners on the course.

Schomaker’s desire to compete in the races has attracted attention from national media, as well as from a Maine lawmaker. Sen. Jeff Timberlake, who represents Turner and other communities in Androscoggin County, wrote a letter to the MPA last week imploring the group to reconsider its decision. And the Mt. Blue High School cross-country team gathered signatures of coaches and runners from around the state in support of Schomaker.

Bisson hadn’t ruled out allowing Schomaker to participate in the Class B South race with the runners, but as of Friday the decision was that Schomaker would race on his own. It wasn’t clear if it would be on the same five-kilometer course the other racers will use.

“Tuesday we are meeting with Schomaker and his family, as well as Leavitt coaches, to see parts of the course and watch him practice,” Bisson said. “We want to limit two-way traffic as enough coaches have been concerned with that.”

Leavitt cross-country coach Neal Rioux was pleased to hear that the plan was still to meet Tuesday and that the MPA at least has given Schomaker the opportunity to race.

“Even though it’s not what we want, with the first appeal being denied, we had to come up with something new,” Rioux said. “If it’s no, or something, we’re kind of grasping at straws with what are our rights, and then if it goes to Legislature that takes longer, but there is still this year.

“The crappy part is this started last year. It’s just been a series of compromises.”

Rioux said Twin Brook is actually set up better for Schomaker than most courses he’s raced because the woods have a lot of dirt that will help Schomaker catch up on any lost time he accumulated in the grass at the start of the race.

“It’s the best course set up for him,” Rioux said. “Once he goes into the loops, he’s going to make up for whatever happens in the field. I think he will come in with some runners, even maybe some on our team. … ”

Jon Schomaker said that a lawyer is reviewing the Schomakers’ options regarding the “segregation.” He said he was set up with the lawyer after contacting Disabilities Rights Maine.

“Nothing is set in stone, but we have legal on it, (and Maine state Sen.) Jeff (Timberlake) on it, things can change,” Jon Schomaker said. “Jeff has been very, very supportive.”

At the Mt. Blue Relays on Friday, many showed support by signing a petition that included the letter that the Mt. Blue cross-country team is planning to send to the MPA on Jonathan Schomaker’s behalf.

“I thought it was great,” Jonathan Schomaker said after his race. “When I saw the petition, what was going through my head was I am going to get a plain white shirt or a plain white piece of canvas and have everyone at KVACs that supports me sign it and I might like to hang it up somewhere at Leavitt or at my wall of fame (at home).”


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