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League refuses wheelchair-bound girl opportunity to run bases

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PAMONA, Kan. -- A Kansas mother is crying discrimination after her 7-year-old daughter is banned from running the bases in a softball tournament that begins Tuesday evening.

Gracie Ferguson is just like any other 7-year-old, she just needs a little help.

"My parents said, 'Gracie, do you want to play softball?' And I said, 'sure.'"

So they signed her up to play for the Appanoose Indians on the Flint Hills league.

"Things may be harder for her but that means she has to try harder," said Michelle, mom.

Because Gracie has Spina bifida, she plays softball in her wheelchair. And when she hits the ball, she relies on a coach to push her chair around the bases.

All was well, until the last game of the season in Carbondale, Kan., when a member of the league decided that Gracie was breaking the rules by running the bases in her wheelchair and needed a pinch-runner.

"They actually voted and created this rule knowing Gracie was going to play," Michelle said.

But, it was never enforced until that game. Her mother was shocked.

"I don't want to crush her spirit," Michelle said.

But then she got angry when league officials told her that same rule would be enforced during the tournament.

"They felt like it would make the league lose integrity to change a rule right before the tournament," she said. "What about Gracie's integrity?"

According to Troy Balthazon, an expert with the Americans with Disabilities Act, what's happening to Gracie is illegal. And the rule book should be changed because it could land the league in legal hot water.

Despite the rule, Gracie will show up for the tournament.

"She needs to know that she is part of a team and her team depends on her," Michelle said.

And Gracie is proof of what good sportsmanship is all about.

The league president said this is the first time the league has had to accommodate a special needs child and it will be reexamining its policies for next season.

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