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Family Fights for Autistic Son's Right to Play Soccer

Cooper Walters was born with autism. His parents said he doesn't like large crowds, but loves playing soccer with his friends. However, his ability to play with his teammates was almost taken away from him.

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 4:38 PM

(LATHROP, Mo.) Cooper Walters, 11-years-old, doesn't like loud noises, strong smells or being around large crowds.

Cooper's parents said he was born with autism, and while he usually shy's away from crowds, there's one group of people he feels he truly belongs with.

"On the soccer field when he's out there with his friends in his grade, he forgets about all that stuff," Ian Walters, Cooper's father, said.

Three years ago, Cooper joined the Lathrop recreational soccer team playing for the 8-10 age group.

"It really helps him express himself in a lot of ways that he usually can't outside," Ian said.

However, Cooper's ability to play with his friends on the soccer team was almost taken away. With his disability, Cooper's parents were able to get approval for their son to play in the 8-10 bracket despite his upcoming 11th birthday by submitting a doctor's note to the league.

His parents said they were under the impression that approval would have lasted throughout the spring season. However, the soccer league said that wasn't the case.

Dana Walters, Cooper's mother, said the local Lathrop board of the soccer team wasn't aware that Cooper wouldn't be allowed to play in his current age group until the night before the team's first game.

"The night before the game I guess our board members were getting emails, but I didn't know this because it was really late. So, the morning of the game we go to the soccer fields and we get a phone call saying he would not able to play with his friends," Dana said.

The email came from the local board's parent league, Tri-County Soccer. The email stated:

"Cooper Walters is an ineligible player at U10 level. If he plays on the U10 game, your team will forfeit
the game. Should he be allowed to play today, this will be viewed as a reflection of the Integrity of your
Club as a whole." - Michelle Phipps and Rochelle Wilson, TCSL Presidents

After the email was sent, Dana and Ian said they wanted answers. They reached out to the Lathrop Board and Tri-County Soccer. The Walters said it took about a week to hear anything back from the soccer league.

However, the Walters got approval for Cooper to play from the local board and SAY, Soccer Association for Youth (parent organization of Tri-County), to let Cooper go ahead and play with his team.

Thinking the situation was worked out, the Walters brought Cooper to another team game only to have the Tri-County board members tell them he still couldn't play.

"We show up on Saturday and they throw a red card and told him that you have to get off the field," Dana said.

Instead of backing down, the family continued to fight for their son's ability to play with his friends. Ian said his son wasn't mentally or physically ready to play with kids 12 and up.

"I understand their point of view of not wanting an unfair advantage with Cooper being a little bit older, but if you've ever seen him play you'd understand it's not an unfair advantage," Ian said.

The Walters said they understand Cooper will not be able to play high school level sports but feel he should be able to enjoy the game while he can and wants to.

The parents again reached out to Tri-County for an answer on why they would not allow Cooper play. They told them they needed to resubmit a doctor's note.

On Monday, the Walters sent in another doctor's note for Cooper, but it wasn't until Wednesday night they finally got their answer.

When KQ2 reached out to Tri-County on Wednesday, they emailed back stating they would allow Cooper to play. They didn't give any further comments on the situation.

"We chose to continue this fight to make sure that he [Cooper] was comfortable. To make sure that he could still play," Dana said.

The team now has only three games left in the season, but Cooper will be able to play alongside his friends.

The Walters said they continued to fight for their son to encourage and lead other parents with children with disabilities to stand up for their rights.

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