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This is really an attempt to understand and an opportunity to vent.
The situation occurred at the Illinois High School Association Track and Field State Meet in Charleston over the weekend. Vandalia Community High School was lucky enough to have two athletes who qualified for the finals on Saturday. Ben Strobel qualified in the 3,200-meter race and Ryan Ambuehl in the 110-meter high hurdles.
Congratulations to the those two well-deserving young men, who have worked hard all season, as well as past seasons, to realize the dream of many high school athletes to compete at their state event. Ben competed very well, and established school records and personal records at many steps along the way. Ryan had tied the school record and went into the state finals ranked fourth. We have seen him take his task to the next level in football as well as in track, and we were all contemplating great things for him. This is where the issue becomes unfair.
Ryan had qualified on Thursday and was supposed to compete in the finals at 1:10 p.m. on Saturday. Many fans made the trek, arriving early enough to be able to watch Ben compete at 12:10 p.m. What a surprise we got when we arrived at 12:00 – just in time to see Ben finish his race!
This was due to the infinite wisdom of the IHSA to speed everything up because of threatening weather. It was raining at the beginning of the meet and continued to rain through the end of the meet, so nothing was gained or accomplished except messing up the starting times for every race. Where was the advantage? And secondly, how was anyone to know what was happening? The athletes had been on the scene since 10 a.m., warming up in the nearby fieldhouse, out of the weather. However, the announcements could not be heard in that preparation area.
By now, you may have heard that Ryan was not allowed to race because he showed up 45 minutes before his designated starting time instead of one hour early. He had his lane assignment; his numbers attached to his uniform; and was ready to go. But he was not allowed to compete because his race starting time had been MOVED UP! He was able to see the race very clearly as he stood and watched four years of hard work culminate in a DNS (did not start) because the race time was changed. How was any of that fair? He was there in plenty of time, and stood and watched the other hurdlers take three or four practice starts from his vantage point 115 meters away! He could have crawled to the starting line in time, and not cost one precious additional second of time to be used.
I think the IHSA should be ashamed to take that opportunity away. I understand if you are late to an assigned time, but not when the officials change that time! And he was not the only participant to DNS because of the changes. What an opportunity was lost to do something memorable for himself and VCHS.
Here is a counterpoint. The St Louis Cardinals had an elementary school choir singing “America the Beautiful” and the “Star Spangled Banner” at a recent game. As often is the case, one of the students arrived late. Did she DNS? No, a Cardinal employee took her by the hand and led her to the area behind home plate so she wouldn’t miss one of the most memorable moments in her young life.
I don’t think Ryan needed to be led by the hand, but he should have been given every opportunity to compete. That, I believe, is the difference between a high-class organization (The Cardinals) and the IHSA.
Instead of being a three-class system in track and field, I think the IHSA is a NO-class system.