Boy Big Winner On Field In 0-0 Tie

Saturday, November 13th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

With his bright red walker before him like a shield, 9-year-old Ryan Taylor joined his soccer teammates Saturday in their last game of the fall season after winning a court battle to get onto the field.

Ryan, who has cerebral palsy, played most of the game, getting in a kick toward the end of the pee-wee contest that ended in a 0-0 tie.

Ryan has at been at the center of a debate over whether a child who must use a walker can play soccer. The Lawton Evening Optimist Soccer Association banned the walker from play last month over safety concerns.

U.S. District Judge David Russell overruled the league Friday night and allowed Ryan's walker back on the field. The tentative ruling, which applied only to Saturday's game, is the latest federal court decision on how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to organized sport for youth.

Legal precedents seemed irrelevant to Ryan.

"I just wanted to play with my friends," he said.

Ryan's walker has been transformed with padding and red duct tape around its metal frame into a creation that almost looks like a four-wheeled scooter.

The day began with a bit of rushing around. Referee Dennis Moe wouldn't let Ryan play until some holes on his walker wheels were covered with tape to prevent injuries to other children. Ryan's father, Tim Taylor, raced home for the red duct tape.

Moe had testified for the league in the federal hearing about his safety concerns the day before. In a pre-game huddle to explain the rules to both teams, Moe told Ryan everything would be OK, then he asked media to get away from the huddle.

"This is for the kids," he said.

Ryan came in early in the game and played for the next three quarters. The ball seldom came his way, but whenever it got near him, Ryan was all smiles.

His tongue wagged as he chased the ball around and watched expectantly as his teammates on the Pioneer Park Thunder faced off with the Flower Mound Bobcats. The game was among about 13 being held at Fort Sill's polo field on a beautiful fall day.

An adult referee shadowed Ryan to ensure his safety and the safety of the other kids. Russell required that an adult be nearby but deemed league suggestions inappropriate that called for an adult carrying Ryan or one or two teammates assisting him.

The referee talked to Ryan on the field but didn't have to help him. The ball bounced off Ryan's walker once. He got a kick in near the end of the game. Otherwise, he spent most of his time watching.

When the game ended, he joined his teammates in slapping hands with the opponents, a few of whom awkwardly approached Ryan and skipped away without giving him a high-five. But others greeted him as he got his hand up from the walker handle.

He was last in line as the team ran through a makeshift arch of parents holding their arms up. Ryan got a hug from two men at the end of the line.

Stephanie Pendergrass, a soccer mom, gave Ryan a banner that read "Let Him Play" signed by supporters. She also gave Ryan a ribbon and a certificate.

Then Ryan met the press, seeming to take it in stride.

"I played three quarters, I'm tired," he said, panting.

He's not sure if he'll play during the spring season.

Russell's ruling didn't apply to the spring season. League officials haven't said if they'll take a similar stance against the walker later.

JoAnne Taylor said she and her husband will keep fighting for their son, whom they adopted at birth.

"It was worth it because Ryan had fun," Mrs. Taylor. "I'm sorry it had to go all the way there (to court) but I wouldn't do anything differently."