Athletes run into top meets that are suddenly off-limits

High schools: An old New York regulation now being enforced is restricting competitors who attend non-public schools.

February 14, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Devon Williams, Track & Field News' reigning indoor High School Women's Athlete of the Year, expected to spend her sophomore year at Towson Catholic competing against some of the nation's best high school runners.

It turns out there's some red tape between her and the starting blocks.

Williams' school is affiliated with an athletic governing body that isn't recognized by some out-of-state athletic associations. That means she and other track and field athletes at non-public schools in the Baltimore area are not permitted to run, throw or jump at several out-of-state meets this year.

When Williams has been able to compete, she has displayed the talent that some say could land her in the 2008 Summer Olympics. On Dec. 26, she set a national high school record in the 500 meters (1 minute, 11.44 seconds) at the Metropolitan Athletics Congress Holiday Classic in New York.

But more often, she has had to sit out high-profile events, denying her some of the opportunities she needs to keep improving.

"I'm kind of upset and kind of frustrated," said Williams, 15. "I'm not getting out there as much as I did last year. I'm probably not being recognized as much."

Don Rich, a contributor to the high school track Web site DyeStat.com and publisher of PennTrackXC.com, says the limited competition won't hurt Williams' physical development but could hinder her "from either a strategic or confidence-building viewpoint."

"Everything else is under her control - her diet, sleep, attitude, training, coaching, etc.," Rich said. "It's just missed opportunities. ... But what Williams learns from racing against the best - taking advantage of every opportunity - could be the one thing that she needs later in life, say, at an Olympic trials, where that knowledge means the difference between making the team or staying home."

It starts in New York

Most of Williams' missed meets are in New York state, which is at the center of the issue known as sanctioning.

Over the past year, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association has been enforcing a regulation that prohibits member schools from competing in an athletic event involving four or more schools if one of the schools or athletes are not members of their state's athletic association. (Williams was allowed to compete in the Dec. 26 meet in New York because that event did not require sanctioning.)

The New York association will accept a school that obtains approval from the corresponding state athletic association saying the school meets the state association's eligibility standards. New York's non-public schools are part of the New York Federation of Secondary School Athletic Associations, to which the New York public school association also belongs. But if a New York school is found to have competed in an athletic event with a non-sanctioned school, the New York school will lose its eligibility for the rest of the season.

At last April's Penn Relays, the meet organizers were forced to reshuffle the heats to separate New York schools from institutions the NYSPHSAA deemed non-sanctioned. A similar conflict could arise again this spring.

In October, an athlete from New Jersey was told he could not compete at the Manhattan Invitational because his school was not approved by New Jersey's athletic association. The athlete later obtained a court injunction and was allowed to participate.

States such as Connecticut and Massachusetts also have enforced rules on sanctioning, but New York appears to be at the forefront because of its strict adherence to the regulation.

Lloyd Mott, an assistant executive director of the New York athletic association, said the regulation has been around "for years" and is intended to "protect our kids from any outside agency trying to abuse our athletes and also to promote fair and equitable competition."

The ruling affects Maryland heavily because its public and independent schools are not governed by one organization. The public schools belong to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Private and parochial schools in the Baltimore area make up the boys' Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and the girls' Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.

Because the MPSSAA is recognized by the National Federation of High Schools as the sole governing body in Maryland, its schools are welcome at events involving New York schools, whose governing body is also a member of the national federation.

But because MIAA and IAAM schools are barred from the state association, they are not recognized by athletic associations like New York's and therefore barred from certain out-of-state athletic events.

The issue is not limited to indoor track or even the Baltimore area. Mount St. Joseph's basketball team was not invited back to a tournament in Binghamton, N.Y., and Archbishop Spalding's boys lacrosse team was asked to back out of a tournament because the organizers wished to retain a New York team.

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