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Autistic Softballer Gets To Play

April 30, 1999

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) _ Anna Inskip missed a pop fly, bobbled the ball and made a weak throw, allowing the batter reach second base standing up. Still, her performance was a victory.

Before Thursday’s game, school officials told the 18-year-old junior her autism put her and other students at risk. They said she could practice with Astoria High’s softball team, but not play in games.

She sued, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Before ruling on the lawsuit, a federal judge issued a temporary order that Anna be put on the squad.

Merrie Young watched as her daughter got to bat twice, striking out once and walking. Anna’s fielding error didn’t bother her one bit.

``I’m excited. I want her to play and not screw up, but I just want her out there,″ Ms. Young said. ``I say if you miss the ball don’t worry about it. Watch them. They all miss it.″

Said Anna: ``It was kind of scary a little. I’ve never stood out like that before.″

Diagnosed with a moderate form of autism when she was 12, Anna finds it difficult to hold conversations, control fine motor skills and has almost no concept of numbers or time.

The district’s concerns about liability date to 1992 when she had a seizure in gym class, but her doctor cleared her to play.

On the field, the 5-foot-4 junior with short-cropped black hair can make one-handed catches and throw overhand.

Softball isn’t Anna’s first love. For two years she played basketball in the Special Olympics and was on Astoria’s swim team last year. She never misses a school football or basketball game and is a rabid Miami Dolphins fan.

She got turned on to athletics by horseback riding. Over the past four years, she won more than 20 showmanship medals. She can groom her favorite Arabian, throw on the saddle, bridle him up and take him for a trot _ all by herself.

When it came to softball, her mother contacted the Oregon Advocacy Center, which agreed to champion Anna’s case, seeking $200,000 in damages. Meantime, U.S. District Judge Garr King in Portland granted a restraining order this week, giving Anna a spot on the squad.

The decision is one of the few rulings for disabled athletes who want to compete in the mainstream. Another notable case was in 1998, when golfer Casey Martin won a court order allowing him to use a motorized cart in professional tournaments because he has a leg disability that prevents him from walking long distances.

Even after winning her order, Ann didn’t know if she would play.

``We’re going to try to play as many people as we can,″ Principal Steve Giere said. ``Regardless of her handicap, we’re going to play whoever allows us to win in a highly competitive situation.″

But with Banks High leading 6-2 in the third inning, coach Shanna Davis sent Anna to right field. Anna stood there wearing mirrored wrap-around sunglasses, socking her glove with her right hand _ and waited.

Then came the pop fly over first base _ and the miss. Winless Astoria lost 10-3.

Anna next goal is getting a big yellow ``A″ for varsity softball to put on her purple high school jacket.

``I see others walking around in it with badges from other sports,″ she said. ``It is like a real uniform.″

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