Olp fights disabled discrimation

PLYMOUTH — Dennis Olp has overcome many obstacles in his life; beginning with one that changed his life forever in 1983. Heading back to Ft. Bragg as a member of the United States Army, Olp was in a motorcycle crash. Two days later, he was paralyzed during surgery.
He has made it one of his life goals to help coach and educate — not only on the softball field where he currently is coach for the Plymouth Stealth girls fast-pitch team, but also to others he comes in contact with: Parents, fellow coaches, umpires and more.
“The mission of Plymouth Stealth is not strictly a team of girls on the ball field,” he says, “but a group of young women who will be committed on and off the field representing good sportsmanship, academic standing and community involvement.”
But, after a “great weekend with a lot of activity” for the Stealth in a softball tournament, Olp is left fighting one more battle.
The NSA (National Softball Association) requires metal objects to have padding and not be exposed. This is contrary to the metal face masks girls wear and fencing surrounding facilities where NSA events are held, Olp said. However, while coaching at the CCAC in Warsaw, he was made to leave the field because his metal wheels were exposed.
“I started coaching around 1980. I was injured in 1983. Around 1989, in Phoenix, I was coaching a men’s slow pitch team and they kicked me off the field. I went before the board and they quickly said they couldn’t do that, it’s discrimination. We overturned that in Phoenix real quick.”
Olp said a girl fell last weekend with lack of her own padding and was injured. She was wearing a metal face mask and in gravel, she ran into a metal fence and broke her collarbone.
“How do you protect her?” he asked. “You don’t. It’s part of playing sports. I’ve coached high school hockey and I’ve had pucks fly into my bench. You cannot protect society from everything. This is discrimination of a person being in a wheelchair.”
Olp says he does not pose danger to any player, and with his wheels exposed can maneuver quickly to get out of the way of any defensive play that may come his way. He wants to help educate and change the rule, bring it up to date.
“It is unfortunate that the team I coach with my daughter is suffering for this. I have spent countless hours with these young women helping them to look past a prosthesis and to see only the abilities of the person. That has been all but stripped away after one tournament with the NSA. The girls worry more about my wheelchair and whether or not I can coach them than they do worrying about the game at hand,” Olp wrote to Eddie Ray Cantrell, NSA executive VP — National Director of Umpires. “Not once prior to your tournament did the parents of the girls on my team, or any other opponent I have faced, feel that my wheelchair was a danger to them or their children. I would hope that you would reconsider your practices since I know that padding all the metal parts on a wheelchair would cause significant difficulty in maneuvering it the way it has been custom manufactured to move after years of research and development.”
Cantrell said that NSA rules may be outdated, and that it would be easiest for Olp to change the rule and be heard if he would travel to Louisville, where NSA is having its national convention in November. Cantrell also said in an email to Olp: “Our rule doesn’t say you can’t coach; it says that we have to have the metal of the wheelchair padded. The rule is several years old and may need to be looked at further. When the rule was adopted years ago, the chairs were not as up-to-date as the chairs of today. But my problem is I have to follow the rule book, period.”
Cantrell added that he is not an expert on new 2011 wheelchairs, and admitted that the NSA is always willing to change its rules for the betterment of the game. He asked Olp to get an online rules change form that would be heard by the national office, which needs to be submitted by Oct. 1.
“If you are passionate about getting your rule changed, you can do it,” he said. “You do not have to attend the convention, submit the rule and see where it gets.”
He does contend that NSA does not or has not ever discriminated against anyone wishing to be a part of the program. “NSA rules are set to protect all of our players and coaches,” Cantrell said.
Olp said no other league has such a rule. “The rule they have in place is very discriminating; if I pad all moving parts, I can’t move, people will trip over me, I’ll get hit by flying balls, etc. I’ve coached since 1998 on several teams, and I’ve never been tripped by a player or tripped a player.”
Olp is preparing for another Stealth tourney this weekend. “They heard I was in a wheelchair, and I couldn’t even be on the field. I’m meeting with them Friday or Saturday,” he said. “This director says he doesn’t care, to take the risk into my own hands and its played on a little league field. I don’t want to start any problems, I just want people to be educated. I know my parents are very upset with what took place, but I’ve been in a wheelchair for 28 years. These fights are not uncommon; people are just uneducated.”