UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM THE STAREGO FAMILY
The state’s governing body for high school athletics has granted a fifth year of athletic eligibility to Anthony Starego, the autistic Brick High School kicker who gained national attention last October when he booted a game-winning field goal in a varsity football game, according to the family's attorney.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s decision to allow Starego a fifth year was made in conjunction with the Commissioner of Education, Brick High and its football opponents, according to a statement released by attorney Gary Mayerson.
He made his return to the field Friday when Brick defeated TR South, 47-21, in A South.
Anthony and his parents were elated to hear the news, Mayerson said, and Anthony’s father praised the NJSIAA for its change of heart.
“We have nothing but our profound thanks for the Association. Anthony, who loves the game of football and being a valued and respected member of the team, gets to play. Nothing could be more important,” the father said in a statement released by Mayerson.
In March, an eligibility subcommittee of the NJSIAA had denied Starego, a member of the Brick Dragons varsity team, a fifth year.
Starego turned 19 this football season, but because of his disability will remain in high school until age 21. Normally, NJSIAA rules do not permit students over age 18 who have played sports for eight semesters to continue playing if they remain in high school.
His father, Ray Starego, has argued his son's ability to play on the Dragons is central to his personal development and progress as a disabled student, and his inspiring story could help millions of families nationwide who deal with autism day in and day out. He had requested one extra year of eligibility for his son.
But the NJSIAA's eligibility subcommittee, which heard the case in March, had rendered a decision denying Anthony the chance to play for another year, citing the fact that his participation could change the outcome of a game, his father told Patch.
"They weighed everything and came up with the fact that he's a difference maker and we need to treat him like everybody else," Ray Starego said in March.
Support for the Starego family has come from a host of influential individuals, including Rutgers University Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan [R-3], a former professional football player in the NFL.