11/06/13 – KHSAA Statement On Whitley County Runner

November 6, 2013 2013-2014 News Releases

On Sunday, November 3, the KHSAA office was made aware of an incident regarding a number assignment at the Class 3A, Region 7 Cross Country meet on Saturday, Nov. 2. The KHSAA office was not aware of the situation at the time it occurred at the competition site. Once made aware of the situation, KHSAA Assistant Commissioner Angela Passafiume, who is the primary contact for Cross Country, contacted the meet official who was responsible for managing the meet to begin investigating the report.

According to the cross country meet official on site, the student-athlete in question and her coach made a request immediately prior to her race for a number change stating only that she “didn’t like” the bib number she had been assigned due to it being 666. The student-athlete and her coach were then reportedly informed by the official that it was too close to the start of her race to make the change, and she accepted that decision. According to the official, neither the student-athlete or coach made any further statements. The meet official stated categorically that at no time did the student-athlete or coach make it known to meet officials that they objected to the number due to the runner’s personal religious reasons and that she therefore would withdraw from the competition.

Mrs. Passafiume stated, “Competitor numbers are automatically and sequentially assigned by the computer software that used in managing these meets, as has been the case for many, many years. At least in my tenure here, and in the tenure of others in the office, there has never been an objection to that or any specific number being utilized. Regional managers are required to send this information (competitor numbers, rosters, etc.) to all head coaches prior to the meet, and this information was sent to the coach at Whitley County on Wednesday, Oct. 30, four days prior to the regional meets on Saturday, Nov. 2. This is deliberately done on the KHSAA’s part to allow ample time for review by all of the coaches. It is regrettable that the Whitley County coach did not review the entry sheet in the days prior to the meet or upon check-in at the meet, and according to the assigned official, waited until the last minute prior to the race to request a change. In this, as in all cases, we will ask our meet management team, when they meet and work on future years’ meets, to have a discussion about this topic, and any others that arise during our 21 regional cross country meets.”

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett noted, “In the past, the KHSAA and its contest officials have made exceptions to such things as uniform codes for religious reasons when that information is made known to the Association or its officials in a timely manner, and have also accommodated other special requests allowed within the adopted contest rules. It is unfortunate that the student-athlete’s motivation and beliefs were apparently not made clear to the meet official on site by either the athlete or the coach, and equally as unfortunate that the meet official did not ask further questions about the reasoning. The head coach had ample time to review the entry list and inform the meet officials of any issues. While one cannot assume universal beliefs in these types of instances, there were opportunities to adjust things had communication been better on all sides. In the end, it’s unfortunate that this preventable incident occurred.”

Whitley County Athletic Director Mike Campbell stated, “We certainly regret that this situation occurred and that the student athlete involved was unable to participate in the Regional Cross Country Meet. We support one hundred percent her decision to put her religious beliefs first.  It appears that poor communication between the adults involved led to this unfortunate event.  We appreciate Commissioner Tackett and the KHSAA reaching out to our district to express their concern and regret over this difficult circumstance.”

“Much like any contest in any other sport, cross country meets do in fact utilize independent contractors to serve as officials (referees) and their decisions are necessarily independent. My regret as our Supervisor of Officials, is that the licensed official apparently did not feel he was given enough information to make a determination as to the viability of this request and no other information was sought. Obviously, our extremely small staff cannot be at every athletic competition, and we will continue to trust in the judgement of our independent contractors and the reports we receive from them. The KHSAA employs more than 4,000 independent contractors serving as officials at a variety of contests throughout the year who are vital to the conduct of our contests and meets. Each of these individuals takes a great deal of pride in their work, and labors to make the best judgement possible given whatever limited set of facts are at hand and rules are in play. We all wish this young lady the best of luck in the future, and have complete respect for her beliefs in this situation, and admiration for the depth of her convictions,” Mrs. Passafiume concluded.