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

Two weeks after denying Leavitt Area High School sophomore Jonathan Schomaker’s appeal, the Maine Principals’ Association said Friday it will allow him to use his wheelchair to compete in the regional and state cross country meets.

Schomaker will compete in a separate wheelchair division race at the Class B South regional at Twin Brook Recreation Area, according to the head of the MPA’s cross country committee, Mike Bisson. Schomaker is the only wheelchair athlete in Maine cross country this season, and he will be scored on his own.

Schomaker, who lives in Greene, has cerebellar hypoplasia, which requires the 15-year-old to use a wheelchair during races with his father, Jon, behind him ready to assist when necessary.

Jon Schomaker has told the Sun Journal in the past that Jonathan wants to compete alongside his teammates and that the option of him racing by himself in a separate division is not enough.

“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 Friday. “It’s blatant segregation. There’s no way around it.”

The MPA has said that it has no precedent for making a decision about a wheelchair athlete competing in postseason cross country meets.

Schomaker has competed in several regular season races the past two seasons. Often, the courses or routes have been modified to accommodate him 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.

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

Bisson isn’t ruling out Schomaker participating in the B South race with the runners, but as of Friday afternoon the decision is that Schomaker will race on his own.

Jonathan Schomaker will test the Twin Brook course next week in front of the MPA.

“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 Area High School cross country coach 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 at regionals, which are Saturday, Oct. 26.

“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. … It would come out to about 2.3 or 2.4 miles.”

Bisson said that the runners at Twin Brook go through an ‘A’ loop, a ‘B’ and then a ‘C,’ before coming back through the A loop. The MPA wants to see how fast Schomaker can get through the A loop before making a final ruling on whether he can race with the B South runners, and, if Leavitt qualifies, the state championships Nov. 2, also at Twin Brook.

“Coaches said that runners would come back through the A loop at the 10-, 12-minute mark,” Bisson said. “We want to find a way to avoid a collision.”

Rioux said that the discussions during a meeting earlier this week at Twin Brook were helpful in planning a course for Schomaker, but next week’s practice run should reveal how well Schomaker can handle the course.

“Ultimately, what we are talking about is one left turn,” Rioux said. “The proposed modified course is, when he comes out of the ‘B’ and ‘C’ loops, and there’s the tree line in the middle, before he would turn and go back towards the ‘A’ loop, he would go left down a more gradual grade that’s parallel with the trees and then turn around the trees and go down the finish shoot. If he did the middle school loop, then he would come in perpendicular with the shoot, and that would be a real safety concern.

“This way he would have plenty of room. I don’t see any way he could impede any of the at least top-30 races.”

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.”

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

In a wheelchair division, Jonathan Schomaker would be scored by himself, but Rioux and Jon Schomaker aren’t worried about being scored. The appeal was to have Schomaker compete with his team, scoring has never been important.

“We did not ask for him to be scored or (he won’t run) at all, they made it seem like we were dead-set on that,” Rioux said. “My phrasing, I believe, was, ‘If we could find a way for him to compete, great, but if not, that’s OK.’”

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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