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Deaf wrestler, MHSAA reach agreement on interpreter

Two weeks after filing a lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association, a deaf high school wrestler will be allowed to have a sign language interpreter who is allowed to move around the mat while he wrestles.

The MHSAA and representatives of Royal Oak wrestler Ellis Kempf agreed to a consent decree, a mutual agreement that alters the original MHSAA rule which required the interpreter to remain seated with Kempf's coach, limiting the wrestler's ability to see the interpreter relay his coach's instructions.

According to Kempf's attorneys, who had filed suit in federal district court, "the MHSAA rewrote its rules about interpreters for deaf or hard-of-hearing wrestlers, allowing them full 360 access around the mat at all matches, provided they don't interfere with wrestlers, coaches, referees or scoring officials," the Detroit News reported Monday.

Interpreters will now be allowed 360-degree access on the wrestling mat to stay in the line of sight for the wrestler, according to MLive.com. But interpreters must stay 6 feet from the outer circle, guaranteeing that they can't interfere with wrestlers, coaches, referees or scoring officials.

"Both sides worked really well together for the benefit of both," MHSAA communications director John Johnson said. "The new rule is well-crafted that allows the wrestler to see his interpreter during the match while also maintaining our priority, which was always the safety of the participants."

"The entire purpose of the rule was to maintain the safety of the participants," Johnson continued. "This rule allows for the communication between the athlete and the interpreter without endangering the safety of anyone involved."

"We commend the Michigan High School Athletic Association for doing the right thing to protect the safety of hearing-impaired wrestlers and also to level the playing field for them," said Jason Turkish in a press release for the suburban Detroit law firm Nyman Turkish PC, which represented Kempf.

"Athletes with disabilities don't want advantages, they simply want to complete equally. This case ends as it began, with Ellis simply looking for a fair fight."

Kempf, who wrestles at 152 pounds for Royal Oak High School outside Detroit, has been deaf since age 2 due to meningitis. At 5, he underwent a successful cochlear implant that partially restored his hearing. For safety reasons, the implants are removed during contact sports, leaving Kempf completely deaf. (Kempf also participates in football and track.)

The new rules are expected to be in place for Kempf's next match, slated to be this Wednesday.

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