Deaf wrestler suing Mich. athletic association over interpreter

December 4, 2015 / Athletic AdministrationWrestling
A Michigan high school wrestler is suing the state’s athletic association, claiming it’s disallowing him “full use” of his interpreter.

MHSAAThe lawsuit was filed Thursday and claims that the Michigan High School Athletic Association prevents Royal Oak High School senior Ellis Kempf from seeing his signs. He is allowed use of an interpreter, but the athletic association requires that he or she stays in the coaching box and does not move around to keep within Kempf’s line of sight.

Kempf’s lawyer, Jason Turkish, said as a result the wrestler has let up and lost during matches this year because he didn’t know it was over.


The lawsuit states the interpreter was used during dual matches hosted by Royal Oak and that there were no complaints until Kempf’s first MHSAA-sanctioned event, in which an official said the interpreter would have to sit with the coaches. The lawsuit alleges that negates the effectiveness of the interpreter and presents “serious safety concerns” while cutting off communication with coaches. It goes on to state that Kempf, who competes at 152 pounds and also plays football and runs track, is at a competitive disadvantage

“The general rule here is that interpreters have always been allowed in regular season and tournament situations,” MHSAA communications director John Johnson said Thursday, adding he couldn’t go into specifics of the lawsuit. “In wrestling, the interpreter sits with the coaches in the corner. In basketball, the interpreter may stand, along with the head coach, in the coach’s box. In football, the interpreter is allowed in the coach’s box, that 3-yard belt that everyone else is supposed to stay out of. We have historically provided an accommodation for deaf student-athletes.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the MHSAA to allow Kempf’s interpreter to be able to move around the mat to stay in his sight line so he can see the signs, instead of being stationary next to the coaches.

According to the article, Kempf has been deaf since age 2 from meningitis and wears cochlear implants, which he can’t use during matches. He used an interpreter at practices and matches during his junior year to improve communication with coaches, but that was disallowed once he started competing in MHSAA-sanctioned events, the article said.

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