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March 7, 2007

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Question from Marquette, Michigan, USA:

Our 13-year-old son was cut from a travel hockey team. The coach informed us that it was due to his diabetes and that the "Gatorade breaks were a distraction to the team." Many parents were outraged, but only expressed it to us instead of to the organization. We realize that education and advocacy is the answer although we find the discrimination heartbreaking. Our son trained hard, had a tremendous try-out, made a contribution and stood out. Even when he needed to leave the ice (skate to the opposing benches where all the back-up sticks were) because the blocked slap shot broke his brand new composite stick, the coach assumed it was due to his diabetes and used it against him as an example of his medical interruptions. They hold the standards at a different level for him. Instead of praising my son's efforts and recognizing the obstacles to compete in travel hockey with type 1 diabetes, the coaches think this reason is cut him from the team is acceptable. USA Hockey rules state differently. One of his parents was present at every practice and game IN CASE the diabetes needed attention, never putting the responsibility on the coaches or parents. It was our first year of learning after diagnosis and considering our son nearly died due to his misdiagnosis. We were proud of his recovery, attitude and will to manage his new disease. What rights does he have? How can we prevent this from happening again? What is the proper way to introduce diabetes to individuals obviously scared, misinformed or ignorant? The coach is a nursing student! How sad is that?


When coaches do not know enough about diabetes and strive to treat each athlete the same, problems can occur. This can be an opportunity to teach a coach about diabetes as long as he or she is willing to listen. Approaching the coach in a positive way can go a long way in getting a positive outcome.

If all else fails, contact your local American Diabetes Association (ADA) to see what help is available. There are rights in the school system for individuals with diabetes. Crystal Jackson is person to contact at the national ADA office. You can also call them at 1-800-DIABETES.

Additional comments from Neal Billetdeaux:

Our son teen son has played hockey for 11 years; eight with diabetes and the last four on travel teams in the Little Caesar’s Hockey League in southeast Michigan. I, dad, have been coaching him all of these years and now have a Level 4 USA Coaching Certification. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any “rights” you have in the situation you describe. As kids advance into travel hockey, the coach is given a wide range of latitude and freedom regarding team selection and management. I suggest a personal meeting with the coach to discuss diabetes, your son/family’s approach towards management and how you can address his concerns. Disruption of a practice may be a perception of his that you will not overcome and you need to be prepared to accept this (some people will never get it). It’s possible to check in with your local amateur hockey association for their opinion, but if the coach is resistant to the situation, you probably don’t want to be on this team anyway.