DAWSONVILLE - Students at Dawson County High School are encouraging the crowd expected to be at Friday night's state playoff football game against Ringgold to support John Green, a West Forsyth athlete disqualified in a recent cross country meet for wearing a headband that read "Isaiah 40:30-31" across the front.
They are encouraging the crowd to wear headbands identical to Green's.
"Local teams and athletes have to stick together, especially for situations like this," said Senior Peytan Porter.
On Saturday, 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.
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 he wore when he was not disqualified in the state meet a year earlier.
The verse reads, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength."
The West Forsyth senior's dad John Green said Wednesday night he doesn't believe religion played a role in his son's disqualification.
"One thing we have been saying to everybody is that we do not believe it was because of the religious nature," Jason Green said. "At this point, our concern is for the future. What happened to John has happened. I think [the Georgia High School Association] needs to take a look at this rule and change it and or clarify it so what this doesn't happen to another runner."
Despite massive online protest, the GHSA announced Wednesday that it stood by its ruling on Green, who was disqualified after a third-place finish.
In an official statement released Wednesday morning, the GHSA stated that the "religious nature did not enter into the decision whatsoever" and that "despite published reports to the contrary, the athlete and his coach were informed before the start of the race that the headband in question was illegal and could not be worn during the race."
While GHSA, the state's primary governing body of high school athletics, sternly denies claims that the religious reference played a role in the disqualification, unhappy students at West Forsyth and across the area continue to their grievances with the association on social media.
"We support John and all athletes who stand up for their faith," Porter said.
West head coach Clayton Tillery said two GHSA officials cleared Green before the race, but he was later informed by a third official at the starting line that his headband was illegal unless he turned it inside out.
When Green did so, the writing was still visible, according to the GHSA statement, and the official ordered it couldn't be worn.
Green's hair is long. It's long enough that assistant coach Scott Griffith felt like the headband needed to remain on, especially considering the persistent rain Saturday at the state meet course in Carrollton.
Griffith, in an interview with Fox News Network, stated "we felt given the race course conditions, that John would not be able to run safely without something to keep his hair out of his face."
Headbands are never mentioned in the GHSA cross country coaches handbook, so it referred to page 3, bullet 7, which states "beanies, toboggans, ear covers are permitted if of a single color, unadorned, (one logo only)."
Because headbands are not mentioned, the rules on bullet 7 were applied to Green's headband.
Green's writing was interpreted as not "unadorned" and, therefore, illegal, even though the writing was not considered a logo. Other runners with headbands with embroidered writing were not disqualified.
The GHSA also cites page 14, Section 4, Article 6 of the NFHS Rules Book, which states, "The referee has the sole authority for ruling on infractions or irregularities not covered within the rules."
Nowhere in the GHSA cross country handbook is writing on garments prohibited.
The Forsyth County school system released a statement Wednesday afternoon standing by Green, Tillery, and concerned parties: "Forsyth County Schools received GHSA's statement on our appeal and we are disappointed with their decision. We stand behind our coach and runner. Forsyth County Schools has no reason to believe that they are not being truthful in regards to the events surrounding this disqualification."
Further, "Clayton Tillery is a successful veteran coach with high moral and ethical standards. Additionally, John Green has had a phenomenal career at West Forsyth High School over the past four years and we appreciate his family's long term support of our cross country program."
As previously reported, Green's disqualification could potentially have affected his standing with the Atlanta Track Club and a chance at a scholarship for being one of seven runners selected to the All-Metro High School Cross Country first team.
However, the Atlanta Track Club's executive director, Rich Kenah, has since said Green was included in the All-Metro team.
"John Green is a member of the Atlanta Track Club's 2015 All-Metro High School Cross Country Team," Kenah said. "While we are aware that John was disqualified at the GHSA Cross Country State Championships, he exhibited a strong performance at the meet and had an outstanding season as a whole, which met the criteria of our All-Metro selections."
Further, Green remains eligible for a $500 scholarship from the Atlanta Track Club for making the first team. Those specifications will come at a later date.
Green plans on continuing his running career in college, but has not picked a school yet.
"We weren't expecting all of this," Jason Green said of the widespread news coverage. "John just wants to run."