The Maine Principal Association will allow Jonathan Schomaker to race in his wheelchair alongside the rest of the runners at the Class B South regional cross country meet, according to Leavitt Area High School principal Eben Shaw.

Schomaker will compete on a modified course and be scored in a separate wheelchair division at this Saturday’s race at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland. The ruling also allows the Leavitt sophomore to race at the state meet Nov. 2, also at Twin Brook.

Leavitt’s Jonathan Schomaker, using his wheelchair, competes during the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference cross country championships Saturday at Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The 15-year-old Schomaker, who lives in Greene, has cerebellar hypoplasia and uses a wheelchair during races.

The MPA confirmed the decision in a new release late Tuesday afternoon.

“(Jonathan) Schomaker will start the race with the other runners, but the layout of the course will give the other runners an opportunity to get out in front as he starts his race,” Michael Burnham, Executive Director of the Interscholastic Division of the MPA, said in the news release. “There will also be a marshal on the course to assure his, as well as the other competitors’ safety, and his times will be counted in a wheelchair division.

“Our number one concern here has always been the safety of all the athletes and this accommodation should keep everyone safe.”

Shaw and Jon Schomaker, Jonathan’s father, are pleased with the MPA’s most recent ruling, which comes more than three weeks after the organization ruled that Schomaker could not participate in postseason meets.

“I am very pleased that our close collaboration with the MPA, the family and the race organizers has resulted in such a positive outcome,” Shaw said in an email to the Sun Journal on Tuesday. “Utilizing a modified course designed to meet the needs of all competitors, our student-athlete will have the opportunity to race in the regional cross country meet with his teammates. Additionally, his time will be scored in a newly created wheelchair division.”

Jon Schomaker said Shaw phoned him Tuesday morning to tell him about the MPA’s ruling.

The MPA last week gave Schomaker two options: Either race in a separate wheelchair race and be scored in his own division, or race in an exhibition race alongside other runners and not be scored, which would take away his chances of racing at the Class B state meet.

“They took the Option B version of racing with everyone and the A version of getting the wheelchair division,” Jon Schomaker said. “It creates a legacy for people that don’t have to go through this in the future. They hope to establish a wheelchair division statewide going forward.”

“The reality is it wasn’t much of a stretch from where we were,” Schomaker said. “We obviously want to see it in writing, which Shaw agreed with.”

The ruling is the first step in laying the groundwork for wheelchair athletes who want to compete in cross country.

“The new division will also open up the opportunity for him to qualify for the state cross country meet as a wheelchair athlete,” Shaw said. “Ultimately, the hard work of the parties involved has resulted in an outcome that will benefit future wheelchair athletes wishing to participate in the sport of cross country.”

Burnham emphasized in the news release that future postseason races will have a separate wheelchair division.

“We’re appreciative of Principal Shaw’s efforts on behalf of his athlete and his understanding of our concerns for all athletes,” Burnham said. “If we have more wheelchair athletes next season, we’ll certainly have those students racing separately, and everyone is clear on that.”

After nearly a month of fighting for his son’s right to race alongside his teammates, Jon Schomaker is content.

“I’m good with this,” he said.


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