Orchard Park High School football player with autism able to play 5th year while appeal is processed

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — For Jacob Kohler football is more than just a sport.

“I think football aside from my parents has had the biggest impact on my life,” said Jacob Kohler, Orchard Park High School football player.

The 18-year-old is on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum. His parents say he struggled with social skills for years but things started turning around once he joined the Orchard Park High School football team a few years ago.

“He’s been more outgoing he’s so happy to be part of something he’s doing better academically he has grown tremendously mentally and physically,” said Lisa Kohler, Jacob’s mother.

This year will be Jacob’s 5th at the High School. He wasn’t able to play during his freshman year because of struggles he faced on the autism spectrum.

But this year Jake’s status on the team was threatened, after the New York State Public High School Athletic Association stated he was only eligible to play through his fourth year at the school. His parents say the rule book states a kid in a position similar to Jake’s should be granted an extra year.

“They mentioned that it was for someone who had either suffered an accident or a different type of critical illness but clearly someone that experienced what Jake did with a developmental delay qualifies for that too,” said Scott Kohler, Jacob’s father.

An online petition started by Senator Tim Kennedy went viral. His parents filed an appeal with the New York State Education Department. On Thursday Jake found out he was granted a stay so he can play while his appeal is processed.

“It just means a lot to me I don’t know how to specify it really but I just wanted to play football that’s all I wanted to do,” said Jacob Kohler.

The online petition received over 2,000 signatures from across the country and even from all over the world. Jake will be with his teammates on the field Friday night as they face Pittsford at 7 o’clock.

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