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An easy answer for track DQ controversies

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By ANDY KIRKALDY Before every varsity girls’ lacrosse game, the athletes line up for a stick check. The referees place a ball in the pocket of each of their sticks to make sure they are legal — not too deep — and thus don’t give the athlete a ball-control advantage.

That official ritual popped into my head when I read about the controversial disqualifications of a Burlington long jumper and a Champlain Valley girls’ relay running team at the May 30 New England qualifying meet in Essex.

Their crimes? The long jumper wore Spandex shorts with the Under Armour brand name displayed in too-large letters, and one of the CVU girls wore earrings.

Not exactly federal offenses, except according to the letter of the law of the national high school rules to which the Vermont Principals’ Association (VPA) subscribes. Understandably, I might add: The VPA doesn’t want or need to reinvent the wheel and write its own sets of rules for every sport it must administer.

But the national rules must deal with situations that don’t really apply to Vermont, like elite track athletes earning sponsorship money. We ran into a similar issue with the Middlebury Union girls’ basketball team last winter when we bought orange wrap for the athletes to tie their hair back. But some over-zealous officials told them they couldn’t use the wraps because orange wasn’t a primary color on the girls’ mostly black-and-white uniforms with orange trim.

VPA Director of Student Activities Bob Johnson explained the organization was following national basketball rules in that case, too, rules that were put in place so that city teams wouldn’t wear gang colors that didn’t match their uniforms.

Johnson said he had spent more time dealing with wrap questions than he had cared to, hinting that some referees might be using less common sense than others. I apologized for taking more of his time, and we bought black wrap.

Well, common sense is the answer on the track, too, just as it should have been for nit-picking referees in the gym, and as it is for lacrosse officials before games on the field. This is a case where the proverbial ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

Let’s start with the premise that all should be operating in the best interest of the kids. And yes, acknowledge the CVU girl should not have worn the earring. Under the current rules, the VPA had to uphold that team’s disqualification. Every athlete knows from third grade on up not to wear them, although why it should matter on the track, where college athletes routinely style chains and more, is beyond me.

The VPA ruled in favor of the BHS long jumper, because the shorts were essentially part of the team’s uniform, and it was the coaches’ fault.

So what should be done? How about the equivalent of the stick check? The VPA can tweak the track regulations to insist that meet officials must inspect the athletes before they compete, not after.

I know track meets are largely staffed by volunteers, but whoever is working the clipboard or firing the gun can check for rules violations as events begin. If none are found then, that’s the end of the discussion.

I know the volunteers and coaches are busy at meets, even over-worked, but if one of these minor infractions is missed before an event, well, no harm, no foul. One might even say, so what? Let the results stand.

Let’s let common sense and the abilities of the athletes rule, not the rules.

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