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Green's father: Headband ruling issue of enforcement, not religion
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West Forsyth senior John Green was disqualified at state for wearing a headband with visible writing, but the Georgia High School Association won't budge from its initial ruling. - photo by File photo

The father of West Forsyth senior John Green said Wednesday night he doesn’t believe religion played a role in his son’s disqualification at Saturday’s state cross country meet for a headband with a Bible verse written on it.   

“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.

Many unhappy students at West, as well as other area schools, aired their grievances with the association Tuesday on Twitter, using the hashtag, #FreeTheFro.

Green’s headband, which read “Isaiah 40:30-31” across the front, has also been the subject of debate about whether the ruling stemmed from the religious content. 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 GHSA, the state’s primary governing body of high school athletics, has sternly denied those claims.  

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.”

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.”