Opportunities lost by IHSA decisions

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Our Opinion

By Dave Bell

There’s something about unrealized potential that prompts a strong emotional reaction.
When it’s caused by a lack of effort or discipline, it makes us mad. When it’s caused by seemingly random circumstances, it makes us sad.
But when it’s caused by ill-conceived and apparently cold-hearted decisions by those in authority, it makes us furious.
Such was a decision made by Illinois High School Association officials at Saturday’s soggy state track meet.
As waves of rain showers swept through O’Brien Stadium in Charleston, IHSA officials decided to accelerate the schedule for that day’s events. It wasn’t like there was a massive storm descending on the stadium that threatened the safety of the athletes and fans gathered for the culmination of the boys track season. Just more on-and-off showers.
And accelerate the schedule they did. They blasted through three classes of finals at a record-setting pace. Good for getting chilled officials home. Not so good for athletes trying to prepare for their events in the most important track meet of the year.
If you follow Vandal sports, you’ve probably heard by now that Ryan Ambuehl, the team’s best prospect for a medal, missed the call for the finals of the 110-meter high hurdles. He knew that the IHSA officials had decided to push the schedule, but he had decided to warm up on the indoor track in the nearby fieldhouse and didn’t hear the calls for his race. He reported to the check-in tent about 50 minutes ahead of the original race time, but learned that the officials had just sent the competitors in his race down to the far end of the track to prepare for the start. Though there was still plenty of time for him to join the other eight finalists, some by-the-book decision-maker in the tent refused to grant him permission.
No question, he was late. No question, he missed the first two calls for the event. But is there no room for grace? Is there no opportunity to bend – even just a little – when participants are caught in the chaos wrought by the accelerated schedule?
The one thing that athletes need prior to competing is predictability and routine. Both of those were made impossible by the decision to abandon the schedule and frenetically blast through the events.
Ambuehl handled the situation like the champion he is. He accepted responsibility for being late, and he respected those in authority, even in an emotionally charged situation. His character and heart were on display for all to see.
Unfortunately, his considerable athletic skills were not.
There is something very wrong about denying a young man the opportunity to run the final race of his career when it was still possible for him to compete without disrupting the other athletes in the race or delaying the event.
The accelerated schedule was a bad idea. The decision to deny Ambuehl the opportunity to compete bordered on meanness. And the IHSA emerged as a diminished organization – one consumed by rules and procedures, not one concerned about the young people it allegedly serves.