Despite being born without hands, Mark Speckman has overcome many challenges in his life. Driving a car isn’t near the top of the list.
The former Merced, Golden Valley and Livingston High football coach has been driving since he was 16 years old. Speckman, 60, has never been in an accident and has a clean driving record.
It still wasn’t good enough for Speckman to get a Wisconsin driver’s license. The legendary coach feels he’s being singled out by the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles because of his disability.
“It’s highly discriminatory,” Speckman said. “I get it, people are going to look at you differently, but when people in an institution are discriminating against you like this, there’s something wrong.”
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Speckman was an honorable mention NAIA All-American linebacker during his playing days at Azuza Pacific. He coached Merced High for eight years, including a stretch from 1988 to 1993 when he led the Bears to five Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship games with titles in 1989 and 1990.
Merced finished 14-0 in that 1990 season and was ranked No. 1 in the state by CalHiSports and No. 5 in the nation by USA Today.
I drove players up and down Highway 99 when I was in Merced for weight lifting tournaments and other events. Nobody ever questioned me.
Mark Speckman, former Merced football coach
After a couple of seasons coaching in the Canadian Football League, Speckman recently took a job as the offensive coordinator at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.
Two weeks ago, Speckman, wife Sue and Lawrence University head football coach Rob McCarthy all went to the DMV office in Appleton to get Wisconsin driver’s licenses. McCarthy had moved from Minnesota.
Sue and McCarthy had no problems getting their licenses. That wasn’t the case for Speckman.
“They singled me out. They didn’t know what to do,” he said. “They asked if I could come back and I told them I wasn’t going to take another day off from work.”
Eventually Speckman was asked to take a road test, similar to a beginning driver. He thought the test was to see how he handled the car. He soon realized it was a standardized test and he was dinged for what he called “ticky-tack” infractions such as not stopping before the white line at a stop sign.
Speckman didn’t pass.
“When I moved to Oregon I had to take a written test and had no problems,” Speckman said. “When I moved back to California I had to take a written test. I remember seeing a sign in California saying you needed a thumbprint to get a license. I took a picture of it because I thought it was funny.
“At least in those places they tested your knowledge. It’s not like Wisconsin is leading the country in highway safety. You can still ride a motorcycle without a helmet here.”
Speckman offered paperwork from his insurance company with his driving record to prove he was a safe driver. He said it wasn’t good enough.
Speckman tried other DMV offices in the area. At the Oshkosh office he was told he needed a medical form filled out by his doctor. In Green Bay, he was told he needed to take an hourlong test.
Steve Pazynski, the Wisconsin DMV Medical Review & Fitness Unit supervisor, did not respond Thursday to phone calls seeking comment.
However, Pazynski told WBAY TV in Green Bay, Wis., that DMV policy allows that “the department may conduct a special examination to determine whether a person adequately compensates for a medical condition or functional impairment.”
“The word ‘may’ gives us the opportunity to examine or test those individuals who, through that close observation of their functional ability may, again, not be able to exercise the reasonable control of a motor vehicle,” Pazynski told the ABC affiliate.
“Each place had their own protocol,” Speckman said. “It’s football season right now. I’m not going to worry about it too much, but at some point this has to get straightened out. We’ve got people going off to wars and coming back missing limbs. Where does it stop? If you’re missing two fingers can you get a license? Where’s the cutoff?
“We’ll see what happens. I wasn’t looking for a fight when I moved to Appleton, but this is wrong. My goal is to make sure this doesn’t happen to somebody else.”