On Saturday, West Forsyth’s John Green was the third runner out of 226 to cross the finish line in the Class AAAAAA state championship race at Carrollton High School. Soon after collapsing from his effort and offering, as well as receiving, high fives from opponents as they walked by the cool-down tent, Green found out he placed 226th out of 226.
The Georgia High School Association’s inconsistent enforcement of a vague, incorrigible rule is to blame for stripping Green from his greatest race in his senior season.
Green was disqualified by GHSA officials for sporting a white, plain head band with “Isaiah 40:30-31” written across the front—the same head band the Forsyth County News has photo evidence of him wearing when he was not disqualified in last year’s state meet.
According to West head coach Clayton Tillery and others involved in the West program, two GHSA officials cleared Green’s headband before the race. Then, a third man who was not in an official uniform or credentialed made a comment about the headband at the starting line and walked away.
When I approached GHSA officials on Saturday to discuss the ruling I was told “it was a uniform violation,” but when I asked to see in a GHSA handbook where the rule is I was shooed away.
The GHSA links its cross country handbook, a seven-page document, to its website. There are two pages that discuss uniform protocol. Page 4, titled State Meet Cold Weather Reminders, permits “beanies, toboggans, ear covers” of a single color, as long as they only have “one logo” visible. There is no mention of headbands.
Page 7, titled GHSA Cross Country Jewelry and Uniform Rules, makes it clear that athletes cannot wear jewelry, and that all undergarments are to be the same color, but there’s again no mention of headbands.
Using deductive reasoning, it seems the GHSA deemed Green’s headband illegal because it was not “unadorned,” which is the language defined on Page 4 regarding logo placement on head wear.
Even though the GHSA was too stubborn to explain the violation to the press, it appears writing is interpreted as a logo by the GHSA. There’s a problem: logos and writing are not the same thing. That’s not explicitly clear.
The bigger issue, however, was enforcement. Dozens of runners had headbands on, and, according to Tillery, there were other runners in the race who wore headbands with Bible verses and the like written across them. There was also no manufacturer logo on Green’s headband because last year, Tillery says, he ripped it off. There’s also the glaring issue of the third official not communicating clearly to Green or the coaches.
Even if, let’s say, there was an explicit rule regarding headbands, Green was still cleared by two of three GHSA officials that met with him before the race. That’s a majority rule. Without explicit rules, or consistent enforcement, it’s absurd that the GHSA refused to budge and robbed Green of a podium finish in his final year with the Wolverines.
When I met with Green after the ruling he admitted to being upset but said he’d never forget the race he ran—that they can’t take that away from him. Many runners, from opposing teams in Forsyth County and across the state, agreed and sympathized with Green. In fact, a lot of them were more furious than he was.
Green’s race was a display of strength, laboring through the thick mud to get to the finish. He showed tons of heart after falling to the ground afterward, lifting an arm up while lying, otherwise, face-first in the slushy grass so he could give high fives to other runners as they walked by. He showed tons of sportsmanship, electing to discuss other runners with me after the best finish of his life.
That is what sports and competition is all about. The stunt the GHSA pulled on Saturday is absolutely not. Green may not show up in record books, but he’ll always be a podium-finish state runner for those who witnessed the race.
EDIT: Green was named to the Atlanta Track Club All-Metro team despite his qualification.
Michael Foster covers sports for the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8983 or follow him on Twitter at @michaelsfoster.