BRICK — New Jersey's high school sports governing body has unexpectedly granted an autistic teenager a fifth year of eligibility, just weeks after it won a key court ruling regarding a lawsuit brought by the teen's parents.
The decision by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association meant 19-year-old Anthony Starego was able to play — exclusively as a kicker — in Brick High School's 47-21 win over Toms River South on Friday night.
"We are elated beyond belief," said Anthony's father, Ray Starego. "It was just such a long, tedious process. It was kind of like climbing a mountain. But we really believed in this so much. Not just for Anthony, but for all the good that can come from this regarding awareness for autism and kids that come after him. We understood the importance of this situation. That's why the battle was so important."
A judge had recently ruled that Starego's family failed to show the NJSIAA had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying the player was given access and opportunity.
The NJSIAA had denied him eligibility due to his age and because he' played four years.
Agency officials say the judge's ruling gave them time to re-examine Starego's "unique" situation.
NJSIAA attorney Steve Goodell said the agency reached out to Brick High School officials and schools that Starego would be competing against as a member of the football team, to see if there was a consensus that he could play.
"We got support from all parties," Goodell said. "That cleared the way for us to reassess."