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Friendship bracelet: Sportsmanship or not?

May 17, 2010

I have been a track and field fan since age 9 when I ran for the Boys Club team in El Cajon, Calif. Some 40 years later, I still enjoy watching kids race their hearts out and then spill their guts after a race.

I love watching relay teams get after it and the anchor leg running someone down.

I love watching a perfectly executed high jump or pole vault.

I love watching someone rip through the hurdles without touching one.

I love watching a kid land in the long jump put, knowing that one was really good.

The one thing I really hate about track and field is the fashion police. I have yet to figure out why the 4x4 relay team gets DQ'd because the third runner has on a white Under Armour shirt while the other three have on black. It has nothing to do with their performance.

I understand why you don't want kids looking like a rag-tag unit, but this isn't the NFL.

I also cannot figure out why a simple piece of jewelry really matters. Well, if you call this jewelry.

A South Pasadena High School girl pole vaulter was recently disqualified because she was wearing a friendship bracelet (made out of string) when she cleared 7-foot-6 to win the Rio Hondo League championship against Monrovia High School.

According to reports, after she cleared the bar, the opposing coach called her on a technicality - you can't wear jewelry during a track and field meet.

"This is my 30th year coaching track," Monrovia coach Mike Knowles said. "I know a lot of rules and regulations."

Section 3, Article 3 of the National Federation of State High School Associations - is clear: "Jewelry shall not be worn by contestants."

Breaking the rule results in disqualification from the event.

"I said, 'Coach (Knowles), you really want it to come down to this?' " South Pasadena coach P.J. Hernandez said.

When Laird found out she had been disqualified because of her string bracelet, she cried.

"It wasn't so much that I had been disqualified, personally," Laird said. "It was that I had just lost the league championship that my coaches and teammates had worked so hard for ... I had just lost it with this little piece of string on my wrist."

"It's unfortunate, that's all I can say," Knowles said. "It's unfortunate for the young lady. But you've got to teach the kids that rules are rules."

"Mike Knowles was down by the pole vault pit, kind of waiting and sitting there, keeping an eye on our girl, waiting for her to attempt the vault and then make the call, " said Hernandez. "I am upset that he wanted to win so badly that he would do it that way.

"We feel sportsmanship is important, too, and that it is in question with him in this situation."

Knowles denied he ambushed Laird.

"I didn't notice the bracelet until after she cleared the height and walked by," he insisted. "(I had) a sinking feeling for her. I didn't want to have to do it. But it's a real rule - it's in the book - not something I made up. About 10 years ago, I had a girl who wore an earring in the 4x400 relay and it ended up costing us a CIF title. I feel bad for what happened, but I guarantee you she'll never wear jewelry during a track meet again."

Before Laird cleared the height, she made an aborted run down the runway. Knowles was there and I would venture a guess he saw the stringed friendship bracelet then.

Is it sportsmanship or gamesmanship?

Is it the letter of the law or the spirit of the law?

Both coaches are wrong.

Knowles should have kept his mouth shut. Period.

If Laird misses, he says nothing.

He wanted to win and put the onus on a piece of string.

At the same time, Hernandez is wrong because he should know the rule and it should have been addressed with the team at the beginning of the season.

And, Knowles, if your answer really is, "But you've got to teach the kids that rules are rules" then you'd better be perfect.

You better go 25 in a 25, 45 in a 45 and the correct speed on the freeway. You'd better come to a complete stop at all stop signs and you'd better use your turn signal each time.

Because, after all, rules are rules.

Speaking of track, I like the new Ohio Valley Athletic Conference track and field format. But, to be there from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. is too long.

I would like to see the field events moved to 10 a.m. and the running events begin at 11:30 a.m. with the 4x800 relays.

As nice of a job that was done at Meadowbrook, I would also like to see the championship moved to the new facility at St. Clairsville.

But, that's just me.

I hope Cavaliers fans got a good look at LeBron James in his road uniform because the next time he steps on the basketball court in Cleveland he will be in a road uniform.

My guess is LeBron's days in Cleveland are over.

He proved that in Game 5 against Boston when he showed as much heart as Roberto Duran when, at the end of the eighth round in a fight against Sugar Ray Leonard, he uttered the famous "no mas" and quit.

And he did it in front of the home fans.

King James played court jester than night and now wants to play general manager with another team.

The loss to the Celtics proved, once again, the regular season does not matter and the Cavs are masquerading as the NBA's best team.

You cannot win a championship with LeBron and a bunch of 'C' players.

I understand owner Dan Gilbert has done everything in his checkbook power to get talent around LeBron. But, when your next best player is an average Antawn Jamison or a 57-year-old Shaq, life is not good.

Mike Brown is not coming back as coach with or without James.

LeBron says he wants an NBA championship and, sorry Cavs fans, he will not get it there. Their drafts have been mediocre, at best and Boobie Gibson, Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Mo Williams are not good answers to any questions.

There's taking a sip of champagne from a glass slipper and then there's this.

Eight members of the South Tahoe High School varsity softball team, all of whom struck out at a recent game, were required by second-year coach Anneliese Neitling to drink soda pop out of a team member's shoe at a team slumber party two weeks ago.

"It was meant as a joke, and obviously it went too far," Lake Tahoe Unified School District superintendent James Tarwater said. "People learn from mistakes. She does a good job pulling the team together, morale-wise and support-wise."

A joke? A mistake?

Dude, call it what it was, a terrible decision by a young coach.

A joke is ... Knock, knock ...

A mistake is a 4-year-old getting 5 when he sees 2+2.

It wasn't a joke gone too far and it wasn't a mistake.

Maybe I have a different view of a mistake. But, it was a terrible choice.

A parent complained about the incident and the coach apologized.

I am the first one to stand up and say parents need to keep their collective mouths shut more often, but I cannot believe just one parent complained.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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