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Disabled teenager competes in meet
Girl in wheelchair participates
in new state track event

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — Mallerie Badgett wanted to be an athlete at Oxford High School. She not only got her wish, she opened up an entirely new kind of competition at Alabama's state track meet.

Badgett, 18, last weekend became the first wheelchair athlete ever to participate in the meet after months of work that included both physical training and a federal court fight. In a debut few noticed, she was the sole competitor in the new wheelchair division.

As the lone racer in four events — the 100 meter, the 200 meter, the 800 meter and the 1,600 meter — Badgett got gold medals in each just for finishing. But hundreds of disabled students attend Alabama schools, and advocates hope more will compete next year now that Badgett has cleared the way.

"She's a pioneer," said Kevin Orr of the Lakeshore Foundation, where Badgett trains. "Now there's an opportunity for others without any roadblocks."

Badgett, who was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy, met some resistance initially after attempting to join the track team at Oxford, located about 60 miles east of Birmingham. She already was a recognized athlete, holding junior national records in nine wheelchair events.

Badgett's father, Randall Badgett, got involved at school, and Mallerie became part of the Oxford squad early this year.

"I just want her to be part of the high school team. There's something you get from that," he said Monday.

In March, father and daughter sued the Alabama High School Athletic Association in federal court in Birmingham seeking the right for her to race alongside able-bodied runners in her wheelchair. Denying her the opportunity violated her constitutional rights and federal law, the suit claimed.

U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre ruled against the Badgetts on Thursday, the eve of the state meet. But the AHSAA already had agreed to establish a division for wheelchair track athletes, making Alabama one of only nine states with such an accommodation, Orr said.

The AHSAA last August entered a partnership with the Atlanta-based American Association of Adapted Sports Programs to promote school athletic programs for students with physical disabilities, and the state association denied that the lawsuit was the sole reason for the new wheelchair division.

"We have already set up for wheelchair athletes to compete in four events before they ever sued," said AHSAA spokesman Alan Mitchell.

After the suit, the association did agree to expand the number of events in which wheelchair athletes could compete, Mitchell said. Badgett was the first and only wheelchair athlete known to ever participate in the state meet, he said.

For Mallerie, the thrill of being in the Class 6A state meet at Gulf Shores wasn't in getting medals since there was no competition, her father said. The joy was simply in being there.

"And this will open the door for other kids," he said.

Few people knew of Badgett's fight to participate in the state meet, but there was a reason. Orr said Badgett's family and supporters kept the case quiet because they wanted to avoid a "media circus" and because Oxford High School and the AHSAA were willing to accommodate many of her requests.

About 660 students in Alabama school are classified as having orthopedic impairments.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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