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Participation in school sports has been an integral part of growing up for countless students, if only to look back with fondness years later.

It is only right that disabled students also get a chance to enter the playing field.

The U.S. Department of Education should be hailed for its decision to provide guidelines for schools on how students with disabilities must be either included in sports programs or provided equal alternative options.

The decision could open doors for countless young athletes in the way Title IX expanded athletic opportunities for women.

While the details still need to be worked out, there are obvious benefits to students who will now have the opportunity to compete with and against other kids. Participation in a sport is not a forgone conclusion. Disabled students must still compete to make the team.

Federal laws, including the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, require states to provide a free public education to all students. They also ban schools that receive federal funds from discriminating against students with disabilities.

But the fact that this new directive explicitly tells schools and colleges that access to interscholastic, intramural and intercollegiate athletics is a right is recognition of what ought to be obvious. Those with disabilities deserve to be offered the same opportunities to live full and active lives.

In fact, there is evidence that exercise among children with disabilities is even more crucial, as they are at greater risk of being sedentary. And it’s just the right thing to do, a point that is understood in at least 12 states that have passed laws in recent years requiring schools to include disabled students in sports and other extracurricular programs.

Whether this new development changes the landscape of scholastic sports remains to be seen, but it definitely offers opportunity.