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Former student-athlete disqualified due to disability fights to repair ‘broken system’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Ethan Orr and his mother Amanda were determined to reform what they call "a broken system" after he was barred from competing in the state swim competition in 2021.

It was Ethan's senior year when he was disqualified for something connected to a medical condition he can't change.

Ethan, who was swimming for Coronado High School at the time, said the head swim referee saw that he covered his glucose monitor with tape. The referee claimed the tape violated a rule that prevents an athlete from wearing something on your body that could "aid in buoyancy or cause body compression."

"It was very shocking. I wasn't obviously expecting something like that to happen at all, I doubt anyone was," Ethan said. "Afterwards, it was definitely embarrassing, and a wakeup call that it shouldn't have happened at all."

Not only did his disqualification impact him, it affected his teammates. He was supposed to be apart of a relay race.

"Any time a student is disqualified from something because they didn't follow a rule, it certainly implies that he did something wrong, and he did nothing wrong by having type-one diabetes," his mother, Amanda Terrell-Orr, said.

In response, the Orr's filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado. After months of conversations, they felt the best pursuit for systematic change would be filing this formal complaint against CHSAA.

"It really became clear that the system that CHSAA was using to accommodate students with disabilities was broken," Amanda said. "If something like this can happen that is so unreasonable. We believed that there was likely need for other parts of that system to be fixed."

Nearly two-years later, CHSAA agreed to change their policies and procedures related to athletes completing with disabilities. Those changes include:

  • Clarify in its activity-specific rules that students with disabilities may participate in CHSAA-sponsored activities while using adhesive tape on medical devices if they provide medical documentation;
  • Adopt an internal procedure for evaluating requests from students with disabilities for reasonable modifications of CHSAA’s bylaws or the activity-specific rules, with such requests promptly evaluated by CHSAA Assistant Commissioners; 
  • Amend CHSAA’s bylaws to make clear that a student with a disability, or their coach, can seek an on-the-spot reasonable modification from a referee at games, meets, competitions, or other CHSAA-sponsored activities, and that the referee can grant such a request if it is readily apparent that the medical device is intended to address a disability;
  • Make reasonable efforts to notify schools, coaches, students, and referees of these policy changes to CHSAA’s bylaws and activity-specific rules; and  
  • Provide training for CHSAA employees, contractors, agents, and volunteers on the requirements of the ADA.

"I think that it's really wonderful. I'm happy that this is going to be able to have an impact, and that rules are going to actually change so that other people don't have to deal with that because I wouldn't want someone else to have to deal with that," Ethan said.

Their pursuit of change was rooted in helping other high school athletes who wish to compete without issue, while expanding the horizons on what's possible for them.

"From the perspective of serving as many kids like Ethan, and kids with other abilities, we believed that system change was the best outcome we could hope for that would really help everyone to come after Ethan in swimming and in other sports," Amanda said.

The Orr family recommends everyone seek out and educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of Type-1 diabetes. Here is a link for more information.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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