LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- More opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in sports may be on its way.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education clarifiedits 1973 law after finding students were not being given equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics.

It's no secret sports will help a person stay healthy and teach discipline, but often athletes with disabilities are denied a chance to participate. That may change as the federal government stands behind these students.

This doesn't mean schools have to change the rules of the game or give someone an unfair advantage, but school districts must follow the basic federal guideline of providing equal opportunity to all students to participate in sports.

Ray Foster may be visually impaired but when it comes to wrestling his sights are clear and set on the goal.

"I plan to win State in wrestling and become an All-Stater one more time," said Foster.

The senior has wrestled several years at the Arkansas School for the Blind where they've modified how wrestlers start.

"We start out in two-hand touch, which is one hand down and one on top. When we break contact, the ref has to bring us back to the center," said Foster.

Although the law has been on the books for 40 years, the U.S. Department of Education clarified it Friday. School districts must provide equal opportunity to students with disabilities along with modifications, but not to the detriment of the student's health.

"I wouldn't put a blind kid out and play football," said Coach Dusty Combs.

Combs said modifications must be reasonable such as running guides for runners. Although they compete with students without disabilities, Combs said other coaches don't complain of an unfair advantage.

"When I hear other coaches, they say we are tough kids. I'm proud of how we act," said Coach Combs.

Although Foster and his friends have been told many times before they can't do something, he wants other coaches to know "that person with a disability could be your greatest athlete."

Not all modifications would be acceptable especially if it fundamentally alters the game. For example, adding an extra base in baseball or eliminating weight divisions in wrestling would change the sport.

Schools can apply for a federal grant called SPARK to help pay for modifications. It ranges from $500 to $3,000.

You can follow Pam on twitter @pbaccam.

Read or Share this story: