One of my favorite movies from the ‘90s is “Tombstone.” The cast is stellar but Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday is, to me, top notch.
When I was thinking about the topic this month, there is one line in particular that Kilmer delivered and it’s perfect for the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) – “it appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
See, back on October 22, 17-year-old Zachary Hougland sprinted across the finish line and became Davis County High School’s first-ever cross country district champion. As everyone cheered, including Zach, he turned around and saw a fellow runner looking pale and clutching his chest. In an instant, Zach made the decision to go back and help the struggling runner cross the finish line, even though he was on an opposing team. That decision, sadly, cost Zach his win and his chance to participate individually in the state championship.
The reason? A national rule states that an athlete cannot assist another runner and is immediately disqualified if he or she crosses the finish line twice.
When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe that an act of good sportsmanship was actually being punished instead of lauded by school officials. I shook my head in disgust and thought, no wonder this world lacks compassion for others because we squash any opportunity to show any.
The rule, at face value, makes sense. No teammate should be able to push, pull or drag another one across the finish line and help the team succeed. But this was a COMPETITOR that Zach helped so what message are we sending to the youth of today about sportsmanship, compassion and common sense?
Whenever taking sports out of the schools because of budget constraints is discussed at any level, the first argument that is brought up is that “sports builds character.” I whole-heartedly believe that. So what character is being built when you punish a student athlete for doing what 99 percent of people consider the right thing?
Despite being stripped of his win, Zach was quoted as saying that he would do it all again even knowing the consequences. I say “Bravo, young man!”
Earlier this month, a petition on Change.org was begun to encourage the IHSAA to restore Zach’s win and allow him to go to the state competition. The Today Show picked up the story and as of the time I wrote this piece, the IHSAA said because of the petition, Zach will be “offered another chance to restore his title” but that the referee who disqualified Zach “cannot undo his call.”
I hope that Zach gets his rightful chance to compete but I also hope that the adults in this situation learn a valuable lesson – that doing the right thing sometimes requires rules to be merely guidelines, not a hard-and-fast commandment.
If you’d like to sign the petition or follow the updates, visit http://chn.ge/1M08ZW6.
I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season and look forward to talking to you in 2016. Until then, stay healthy!