Officials reverse decision to bar man with AIDS from coaching

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Officials of a youth football league have reversed their decision to bar a former firefighter with AIDS from helping coach his 7-year-old son's team.
On Sunday, the board of the Ellet Suburban Football League banned Stephen Derrig, 36, from acting as assistant coach to the team of nearly 40 boys ages 7 and 8.
On Thursday, the board agreed to put Derrig (pictured, above) back on the field.
"I'm going to go out tomorrow and start coaching," Derrig said. "Hopefully, I'm not too far behind."
The board reversed its decision after talking with medical personnel and meeting with a lawyer, said League President Mike Moye.
Moye said the board will require the players' parents sign a waiver acknowledging they know of Derrig's ailment. Derrig agreed to the concession.
Two weeks ago, league officials suggested that they might have a problem with Derrig helping coach the team. League director Dan Gable said he began receiving anonymous calls from people identifying themselves as parents who expressed concern about Derrig coming into contact with their children on the football field.
Derrig said the opposition took him by surprise. He has coached his daughter's softball team and his son's baseball team, both part of the same parent organization that oversees the football program.
The decision caused a media uproar, with Derrig and his wife, Melissa, appearing on the "Today" show on Wednesday.
Parents supporting Derrig told the league's board on Monday that they disagreed with the ban, and most board members quit that night.
Dr. Barbara Gripshover, medical director of the John D. Carey special immunology unit at University Hospitals of Cleveland, said concern for the children's safety is unnecessary.
"The only way AIDS is spread is through sex, sharing needles with an infected person or blood transfusions," she said. "None of these will happen on a football field."
Derrig contracted AIDS as a firefighter and paramedic and was diagnosed in 2000, when he was close to death. Now, with medication, the virus has abated.
"This disease is here, and we might as well take a negative and turn it into a positive," Derrig said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)