A youth football player in Lunenburg, Mass., has been kicked off his team for "being smart," his mother says.
Michael Nowd skipped a grade five years ago because he was ahead of the game academically. However, he continued to play with kids his own age on his usual team, the Bengals of the Central Mass. Youth Football and Cheer Conference, WBZ-TV reports.
That arrangement came to an end recently when someone anonymously complained the eighth-grader, who happens to be team captain, violated league rules for not being in the same grade as his teammates, the report says. However, Michael is reportedly no bigger than his seventh-grade teammates, and he's younger than half of them.
“I feel like they’re discriminating against a kid for being smart,” Michael's mother, Dianne Nowd, told the station.
The league upheld its decision to bar Michael from the Bengals, declaring that he must move up a level to continue playing. However, there is no local American Youth Football eighth-grade league, a column in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette notes.
"The AYF is missing the boat," Bengals Coach Steve Powell told the newspaper. "This is a unique situation."
Every year Michael's application clearly noted he was one grade ahead, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette writes, and there was never a problem. Nowd has asked the league to at least grant Michael a waiver for the rest of this season. The Bengals, meanwhile, offered to forfeit games in solidarity, but Michael told teammates and parents to play on to avoid sanctions.
He will likely watch the last four games of the season from the sidelines while his supporters continue to protest a policy that punishes academic achievement, Powell told the Sentinel & Enterprise.
"This kid lives and breathes football," Nowd told the outlet. "It is absolutely killing him to think he might be done (for the season), and this is his last year as a Bengal."
The Huffington Post reached out to the league for comment. We will update this story if a representative responds.
Michael's case runs counter to the strategy employed by some parents who hold back their kids in school so they can gain a competitive advantage in athletics.
A recent New Yorker piece featured an expecting Harvard sociologist, Hilary Levey Friedman, pondering evidence that kids who are among the oldest in their class tend to excel more in academics and sports. She even hoped to delay the birth of her son so he could make a possible age-cutoff date.
Eventually, Friedman sided with research that the youngest benefit from having older peers and often surpass them.
UPDATE: League vice president Tim Whitcomb responded to HuffPost, writing in part:
"We wish the player the best, but please understand that he is not being punished, his academic excellence just moved him to a different level per his current grade, academically, socially, and athletically. It's unfortunate that he had to be moved up vs being put into an accelerated program, honors, or advanced placement and remain at the same level. Across the country, those programs are not put in place until high school, so I agree that there are some areas that can be corrected in that regard to meet the needs of the smarter kids."
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