The South County girls’ cross country team will be going to the Sectional this Saturday after several days filled with heartache and controversy.
Two runners were disqualified on an individual basis this past Saturday at the Petersburg-PORTA Regional meet for allegedly running outside the bounds of the course. Pleasant Plains Senior Jaidynn Albers and South County freshman Madigan Burger were given the disqualification after allegedly running in front of a football goalpost on the course instead of running around it, a difference of less than 5 feet. Both runners were in the lead pack in the race.
According to Franklin Athletic Director Katie Slaughterback, who was not in attendance on Saturday in Petersburg, says there was no clear markings for runners during the girls’ race to follow to the finish line according to accounts given to her and pictures taken of the course at the meet: “The expectations of the host is to have white athletic markings to show the course and then, to have multi-colored flags approximately 6 feet above the ground, I’m not sure, signifying which way to turn or to go if it’s straight. There were no markings of that sort, but accounts did say there was an arrow on the ground as you exited out of the woods cutting through a gate to enter the track and football field [heading towards the finish line]. Apparently the arrow coming out the gate just pointed towards the field goal post, but did not indicate whether a runner was to turn to the right or to the left.”
Slaughterback says that the main official for the meet then made a change for the boys’ race that followed the girls’ race. She says that the official ensured that their race would not have any such confusion on where to turn at the goalpost: “The main IHSA official told his assistant to go down to that spot [where the disqualification occurred] and direct the boys so that the mistake didn’t happen again. We have a picture showing the official. He’s in a white polo with bright orange sleeves with one hand up in the air and the other hand pointing the boys in the correct direction. So, it was clearly different for the boys’ race than for the girls’ race.”
Parents and South County Cross Country Coach Jason Courier attempted an official appeal to the ruling, because Burger was the final participant on the South County team that made them a full squad. According to IHSA rules, it takes 5 runners to qualify as a team for Sectional competition.
With Burger’s completion of the race, South County would have qualified as a team for Sectionals. Pleasant Plains, due to the numbers on their team, were still able to qualify for Sectionals as a team despite Albers disqualification. Albers, in turn, will also get a chance to compete despite her Regional run being disqualified.
Courier told the Franklin School Board last night he was willing to take the appeal to the courts if it needed to go that far because he felt a great injustice was done to his team and the school. The school officials were set to have a meeting over Zoom with the IHSA Board of Directors at 1PM this afternoon in an attempt to appeal the disqualification and allow the runners to compete at Sectionals.
A little after 11AM today, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson made the meeting moot by issuing the following statement in a letter to the school: “It is my determination that the markings on the course, along with the limited guidance offered to the runners during the race created a reasonable misinterpretation of the course path leading to the disqualification of the runner(s).”
The South County Girls’ Cross Country team will now be allowed to participate at the Elmwood Sectional on Saturday with no scoring changes amended to the Regional meet.