Illinois High School Association officials often speak of trying to create a “level playing field” for all competitors in their respective state series competitions.
Rules are rules, but try as they might, the result doesn’t always turn out to be “fair.”
Such was the case Friday night for four girls who make up Kaneland’s 3,200 relay. Freshman Becca Richtman, juniors Aislinn Lodwig and Jessica Kucera and senior Sydney Strang thought they were running their usual race, requiring each to circle the 400-meter track twice with the Knights’ baton.
Not so fast, ladies.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, these girls were running up a steep incline.
“Something happened,” Kaneland coach Doug Ecker said Saturday. “The F.A.T. (fully automated timing) system went down during the race. There was a short circuit or something that shut it down because no times for anybody were kept.”
Everyone on hand can attest, Kaneland finished third in the race behind winner Boylan Catholic and runner-up Sterling. Rock Falls was close behind the Knights in fourth.
The rule at sectionals: the top two placers in each running event along with any other competitor meeting the state qualifying standard — in this case 9:58.04 — advance to the state meet the following week.
As usual, every coach with a team in the race was keeping at least one hand-held time of the event to gauge splits for each of their girls for the race. Kaneland coaches knew their girls beat the qualifying mark.
“I had us at about 9:50 and Rock Falls was within a second of us,” Ecker said.
The trio of officials running the meet discussed it, spoke with coaches and then called the IHSA, delaying the proceedings by at least 45 minutes.
Unfortunately, according to the rule, only the top two finishers can advance to state and the other teams are out of luck since their times can’t be documented.
“I was pretty livid,” said Ecker, who along with several other coaches on hand let his feelings be known. “I was upset for my kids.”
As well he should have been.
“To me, it’s totally unacceptable,” he said. “It’s a big deal to qualify to run in the state meet. They have to figure out a way to have a backup in place so this doesn’t happen again.”
Ecker doesn’t blame the officials who were running the meet, but does plan to email the IHSA suggesting a review of the situation and a change of the rules.
Meanwhile, a campaign has started on Twitter. Check out #LetKanelandRun and weigh in on the situation if you’e so inclined.
The IHSA still has several days to make a course correction.
It put a damper on an otherwise “tremendous night for us,” Ecker said.
Kaneland qualified three other relays and individuals in seven events. The Knights won the team title with 100 points, edging conference rival Sycamore by two points.
Of course, the Spartans initially were declared the champs and presented the plaque. That’s because the computerized scoring system tied to the F.A.T. didn’t credit the Knights their points in — you guessed it — that 3,200 relay.
At least they were able to get that result right.