MARQUETTE - Eric Dompierre has been ready to hit the football field for months, waiting for the chance to don a Hematite jersey during his senior year at Ishpeming High School.
And now, the Michigan High School Athletic Association is going to let him play.
Dompierre, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome, was notified Thursday he'd be allowed to play high school sports this year, as the MHSAA's executive committee approved his age waiver application during its Wednesday meeting.
Eric Dompierre, 19, kicker for the Ishpeming High School varsity football team, prepares for the first day of practice Monday at the Ishpeming Playgrounds. An approval of a waiver for the high school senior was announced Thursday by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Schools in Michigan earlier in the year voted in favor of lifting the age limit for sports eligibility under certain circumstances. Dompierre, who already has turned 19, has Down syndrome. (AP photo)
"I'm very excited," said Dompierre, who is a kicker for the school's varsity football team and also plays basketball.
Eric's father, Dean Dompierre, has worked for more than two years to add a waiver to the MHSAA's previously unbendable age eligibility rule to give his son the chance to play sports during his final year of high school.
He said he was glad the struggle was finally over.
"It's a great sense of relief," Dean Dompierre said. "I'm proud of the way he (Eric) has handled himself through this whole thing. He helped not only himself, but he helped out some other kids from the state.
"I also feel thankful for all the people who helped us out in this and made this thing happen," he added.
Dompierre worked to lobby for the addition of language to the MHSAA's constitution that would allow for players with certain disabilities to apply for a waiver to the MHSAA's age eligibility rule. The rule states that any student who turns 19 before Sept. 1 is ineligible to play sports. Eric's genetic disorder required him to have extra schooling in elementary school. He will turn 20 in January.
The father-son duo kept busy this year in the hopes Eric would be able to play. They traveled to Lansing to address legislators, they started an online petition that garnered more than 80,000 signatures and they were interviewed by media outlets from across the country, from CNN to the New York Times to Sports Illustrated.
After more than two years of back-and-forth with the MHSAA, the organization in May sent out the age waiver proposal for a vote among the more than 1,500 MHSAA member schools.
The results showed that 94 percent of the 701 member schools that responded voted yes on the proposal, effectively changing the MHSAA's constitution to allow for the age rule waiver.
A petition for an age waiver for Eric was submitted to the MHSAA two months ago.
According to MHSAA Executive Director John Roberts, though there were many phone calls inquiring about the age rule waiver, only two waivers were submitted, and both were approved.
"There is a great deal of concern over the waiver procedure for the maximum age rule among our membership. There is also some confusion about for what circumstance it will apply," Roberts said. "But, I believe with some time, we'll work through it and we'll have both a better understanding and a greater appreciation for it."
For Eric, the worries of whether or not he will be able to finish out his high school career on the field with his teammates are gone.
"I'm excited to tell my teammates," Eric said Thursday evening. "I want to surprise them tomorrow ... I want to hear them cheer for me when I kick the field goal."
The Hematites' first varsity football game is at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 24th at Iron Mountain.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.