Athletic officials out of focus on priorities

October 28, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

HERE'S A small suggestion to athletic officials regarding the recent troubles of a Carroll County cross country runner: Get your eyes back on the playing fields and take them off of young ladies' delicate undergarments.

You read about this, right? It was out there on the front page of Saturday's Sun, a position of prominence in this newspaper not routinely given to: a) the outcome of high school athletic events in: b) Frederick County, which happened to involve: c) a cross country runner from Carroll County.

It was on the front page because of the stuffy ruling committed against 17-year-old Jill Krebs, running for South Carroll High School, running after a gutsy recovery from a stress fracture of her hip suffered last year, and running in hopes of winning a college scholarship next fall.

She was disqualified for wearing the wrong color bra.

It was 10 days ago, at the Central Maryland Conference Championships, held at Linganore High School in Frederick County. Jill had just run her best time ever - covering the 5-kilometer run in 19 minutes and 53 seconds and collapsing in exhaustion as she crossed the finish line - only to find herself approached by a fellow named John Grim, deliverer of Grim news.

Grim is the athletic director at Linganore High School, but on this day, he was acting as meet director and guide to all matters of fashion dictate.

As he watched Krebs take off, he says, he could see she was wearing a pink running bra. A strap had slipped out from her dark jersey. He says several other officials also noticed it.

Now, let us pause for a moment to picture the scene:

There are more than 50 runners taking off. Each of them is looking for an opening, an angle, a bit of geography to call her own to begin breaking out of the pack. There will be jostling, some of it intentional and some not. There is the danger of legs getting tangled in the confusion and crush. There's the possibility of kids getting hurt. All of this is happening at pretty high speed and confusion.

And these folks are checking out the color of a kid's bra?

A violation of the dress code, they're saying. Rules are rules, they're saying.

"We followed [the rule book] chapter and verse, the way we always do," Grim told The Sun's Anne Haddad. "Any visible undergarments, according to the book, have to match . . . whether it's T-shirts, tights, boxer shorts on boys."

Understand: Jill's running bra was mostly covered by her jersey. But a strap or two seems to have slipped slightly onto her shoulders - including that moment when she crossed the finish line and collapsed in exhaustion.

The ruling: disqualification.

"It doesn't seem right," David Booz, Jill's principal at South Carroll, said yesterday. "Here's a girl who worked so hard to overcome the stress fracture she had last year. She's a lovely person and a first-class runner. And now this."

It's a rule, said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Schools Athletic Association, that was "never intended to disqualify someone because of an undergarment that wasn't meant to be visible."

Tough, say the rules purists.

Thus raising the question: Since when does cross country need an underwear code?

"It's to prevent what we have in a Dennis Rodman," says Karen Kuhn, chairwoman of the national rules committee for track and cross country, taking note of the flamboyant Chicago Bulls forward known as much for his off-court fashion flamboyance as his on-court rebounding.

Apparently, if you let one girl wear a pink running bra, the next thing you know, the guys all want to wear 'em, too.

Kuhn says the underwear clause avoids distractions from the sport, whether it's Dennis Rodman's basketball or Jill Krebs' cross country.

To which someone needs to say: What a crock.

The ruling against Jill Krebs isn't about the purity of sports or dress codes inadvertently violated. It's about grown-ups wishing to flex their muscles any time they get a chance, who forget what sports is supposed to be all about.

It's about young people at the peak of their skills competing with each other for the thrill of it. It's about each individual competing with his or her own physical potential. It's about the human spirit overcoming injuries, overcoming odds, overcoming lack of strength or speed with sheer courage.

It shouldn't be about overcoming obtuse authority figures.

"Jill's trying to put this behind her," her coach, Rob Pennington, said yesterday. "She's got the regional championships on Thursday and the state championships Nov. 8. She's one of the top five runners in the state."

"She was mad when it happened," Principal Booz said yesterday. "But she's a very mature young lady, and very polite, and she said, 'OK, let's work within the system to appeal this. I want to do what's best.' I'm very impressed with that."

It's the kind of maturity we expect from adult officials who should have been watching her performance, instead of her bra.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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