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Young cheerleader should be exception to age limits

It certainly is comforting to know that, when so many organizations that deal with teenagers are concerned about violence, drugs, hazing and alcohol, the Utah High School Activities Association has nothing more important to do than keep a 7-year-old child from spreading a little joy at basketball games.

But the issue deserves more serious attention than sarcasm from an editorial columnist. After all, there are rules, and rules are made for a purpose. Rules help keep people safe and, above all, help schools and their officers avoid lawsuits. Schools worry a lot these days about that dreaded "L" word: liability.It seems the association's bylaws state that children younger than high school age cannot be in any way involved in sanctioned interscholastic activity except during halftime performances.

As a general rule applying to hypothetical cases, it makes sense; when applied in a real case with real people, it doesn't. That's the problem with rules that don't allow exceptions - they don't make sense because few real people fit the hypothetical.

A while back, several schools experienced trouble enforcing sexual-harassment rules in elementary schools. Sure, the rules sounded good on paper, but when applied to 6-year-olds stealing kisses on the playground, they became ludicrous.

Organizations with rules that don't provide for exceptions remind me of customer-service phone lines that don't allow you to talk to a real human being. You have information that the computer doesn't recognize and you can't make your case without talking to a person. It's frustrating, dehumanizing and counterproductive.

Rules that replace a group of real, listening, caring people are unfair. There should be a reasonable way for the association to hear the individual circumstances of any case that is exceptional - that is, deserving of an exception to the general rule.

Amy Leo is an exceptional case and should be granted an exception from the rules. She is a spunky, adorable child who happens to have Down syndrome, a condition that will limit her accomplishments to some extent all her life. She and her parents have found a way Amy can display her talent that makes her happy and provides a wonderful experience for Amy and those who watch her perform.

Amy's greatest joy is dancing and cheering with cheerleaders at Davis High School athletic contests. The cheerleaders love her, the fans love to watch her and everyone is proud of her. But Amy is more than entertaining. Cheering, doing dance steps and stunts, laughing and clapping in her homemade uniform, Amy is an inspiration.

Other parents with children who have disabilities may see Amy as a beacon of hope. She instructs teenagers and others who see her enthusiasm and her love of life. From her they can learn the value of differences and the limits of physical limitations.

Amy is violating the rules; there is no doubt about it. She has no business on the court with the official cheerleaders, and school officials are compelled to remove her. But does Amy's case have any resemblance to what was in the minds of whoever made the rule?

The association shouldn't substitute the rule book for a human decision that takes all aspects of the case into account. It should be the business of the association to seriously consider what it's doing before taking a precious activity away from a little girl and a precious little girl away from the fans who love her and learn from her.