Overland Park A father who uses a wheelchair has been told he must have an adult standing beside him when he coaches his second-grade son’s football team in a Johnson County youth league because his chair poses a safety risk.
Merrill Staton, 36, has a neurological order called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease which makes him fatigue rapidly and forces him to be in a wheelchair most of the time. He volunteers as a coach and statistics keeper for his 7-year-old son’s team, and was told Sunday of the new restrictions.
The Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County, a nonprofit agency run by a board of directors, said Staton’s presence poses safety issues for the 7-year-olds flying around the gridiron in full pads.
“What we were concerned with was the safety of him and the safety of the kids,” said Rich Hunter, the club’s executive director. “He can be there, he can take stats, do what he does. We just need somebody, an adult to be there with him in the event that a play got over there.”
Staton was not present when the club’s board discussed concerns about his wheelchair, and he didn’t get a chance to explain his condition or mobility of the chair.
“I can’t do a whole lot, I guess, is my bottom line,” Staton said. “There are very few things that I can still do that I enjoy to do. I’ll never be able to run and play football like that again. I’ll never be able to run and play Frisbee.”
What he does enjoy is watching his two sons, aged 5 and 7, play football. But Hunter said board members are concerned that if he’s on the sideline of those games, he might not be able to move out of the way fast enough if a play comes toward him.
Staton’s not buying that argument. He said he can move his motorized wheelchair “faster than some of those guys on their feet. I mean, it’s a matter of moving a joystick and moving.”
Hunter said he’s not aware of any complaints or collisions involving Staton. He said Staton’s presence in the wheelchair was brought to the board’s attention by the sportsmanship committee when members saw him coaching.