Rules are rules.
Sports teams have to abide by them no matter how outlandish they may seem.
A little-known Minnesota State High School League track rule came up to bite the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton boys track team at the Section 3A True Team meet Monday in Slayton.
Here’s what happened:
Standout TMB distance runner Ryan Tholen was put in the 4x800-meter relay and the 1,600-meter run and the 800-meter run. Unbeknownst to TMB head coach Monica Headlee, a track athlete competing in Minnesota can
only be put in two events that are 800 meters or greater.
Since Tholen and TMB violated that rule, his first-place finishes in the 1,600 and 800 and the Panthers’ second-place finish in the 4x800 were all disqualified. That meant that 81 points were taken away from the Panthers’ team score. It also cost the Panthers a guaranteed trip to the Class A state team meet next week in Stillwater.
With the violation, TMB was brought down to 551 points and a second-place finish. Southwest Christian was awarded first place with its 585 points.
MCC boys track coach Tim Bobeldyk told the Independent Monday that “under the Minnesota State High School League rule, which falls under the true team meet, a participant can only run in two events of 800 meters or more. Unfortunately, since a rule was broken, the penalty is that the points scored are forfeited. (Tholen) accounted for 81 points. You hate to see something like that happen.”
The violation was caught by three other coaches at the meet. They protested and the points were taken away from the Panthers.
When reached late Monday night, Headlee said she didn’t know about the rule. Headlee grew up in South Dakota where distance runners aren’t limited like they are in Minnesota. Headlee also ran track for four years at Black Hills State in Spearfish, S.D.
“In South Dakota, you can run four running events of any length,” Headlee said. “In college, it’s the same way. We sat down before the meet and drew up the heat sheet. I talked to my assistants and none of us knew about the rule. It’s my fault.
“I ran four running events at every single meet growing up in South Dakota. I had never heard of a distance runner being limited the way they are in Minnesota. To my understanding, a runner couldn’t run more than three miles total. We really thought we were obeying the rules.”
Headlee was hard on herself during our conversation Monday night. She said she let herself — and her team — down.
“I was blindsided by it,” she said. “It’s a rule and we need to abide by it. The guys were the best team out there — they just didn’t have the best coach. I’m disappointed in myself. Our guys had been coming in second place all year long and this was their shot.”
Headlee said the boys team had been working toward the true team meet all season.
“If you’re in track at TMB, the sport is looked down upon by a lot of kids because they think it’s a dumb sport,” Headlee said. “It’s been a struggle for us to keep kids out. I was personally looking forward to the boys making it to state. TMB hasn’t done that in a long time. I’m not disappointed in my guys. They did everything I asked them to. They ran their hearts out. But when a rule gets broken, it needs to be enforced. It’s a good lesson to learn.”
To Headlee’s knowledge, the rule hasn’t always been enforced in Minnesota.
“In years past, there have been coaches who have run these combinations and nobody has said anything about it,” she said. “I’m not making excuses. It’s just the fact that none of my assistants or I caught this. It was something we didn’t know about.
“Something like this doesn’t get enforced until a big meet when everybody is looking.”
To be clear, Headlee and TMB weren’t trying to put anything past the other teams at the meet. It was an honest mistake. Still, some coaches might have thought otherwise.
“I think the consensus was we were trying to sneak something by people,” Headlee said. “We were trying to win legally and honestly. I keep a rule book on me at all times. Unfortunately, this rule wasn’t in the book I had. It’s in the MSHSL rulebook somewhere on the Internet. My assistant came up to me and told me that Ryan was going to be disqualified. When I was told the rule, I was in shock. It’s confusing.”
What was most disappointing to Headlee was that Tholen wasn’t rewarded for running one of his best meets of the year.
“Ryan ran three of the toughest races he’s been in all year,” Headlee said. “He was throwing up after the relay. He ran gutsy. It’s unfortunate it was all for nothing. We were the best team out there. I don’t think any coach would disagree with that.”
Headlee said she could file an appeal with the MSHSL. However, it’s unlikely it will do any good. The rule isn’t made to be broken.
“I’m interested in seeing why this rule exists,” she said. “I know it won’t change the outcome. I’m accepting responsibility for what happened. But we are being penalized for having our best distance runner in three events. I don’t understand the reasoning for the rule. That’s something I would like explained to me in the future.”
Should all of TMB’s points have been stripped away because of the violation? No. Tholen’s points in the last race he ran should’ve been taken away — that’s it. The two previous events really had nothing to do with the rule.
But maybe something can be learned from this. If the MSHSL and the track coaches association thought about what was right, they would do away with the rule.
Why limit a great track athlete when they can obviously do more for their team? It’s just unfortunate that the team that should’ve gone to the state meet isn’t. And, it’s not right that the hard work put in by the TMB athletes isn’t being properly rewarded.
There still is a slim glimmer of hope for the Panthers. A “wild card” entrant is always rewarded a spot in the Class A and AA state true team meet after the results from across the state are tabulated from the eight section meets. But the Panthers’ point total will have to beat seven other teams that finished in second place from the other Class A section meets.
Here’s hoping that some justice will prevail in this and TMB gets in.