Judge helped put controversy on fast track

On High Schools

The Kickoff

May 29, 2006|By MILTON KENT

You would hate to have been in the shoes of whoever had to explain to the Atholton girls track team that they couldn't repeat as state Class 2A champions Saturday.

And you'd certainly have wanted to do anything but look into the eyes of Atholton junior Alison Smith, who ran her heart out and appeared to win the 1,600-meter title, only to have it taken away because she was listening to a schoolmate.

Yet, that's where things are in the wake of controversial disqualifications at the state meet, as Smith and her teammate, Tatyana McFadden, were disqualified because McFadden, a wheelchair athlete who was participating in the race, supposedly was acting as a "pacer" for Smith.

Maybe there's no one, really, to blame for what happened Saturday at Morgan State.

Can you fault McFadden and her mother, Deborah, who have been challenging Howard County and state officials for the chance for the girl, who was born with spina bifida, to be allowed to participate on the track at the same time with able-bodied runners, even if her times didn't count? They had pushed their case to that point. How could they stop so close to the finish line?

Could you blame Hereford officials for taking their appeal of state track and field referee Robert "Bo" Myles' ruling to a higher authority after Myles said that McFadden didn't convey "advice, information or direct help to an athlete by any means, including a technical device," as defined by the U.S. Track and Field Association?

Technically, a wheelchair could be construed to be a "technical device," particularly if you don't think the person riding in it should be in the race.

And could you criticize the Jury of Appeals, a panel of members from the State Games Committee from the three other classes from disqualifying McFadden and then Smith?

If, under those guidelines, McFadden, who was in front of Smith, said anything about race strategy or positioning of other competitors, then they both had to be sanctioned.

If there is blame to be applied, it should fall on someone wearing not a runner's uniform, but rather a judicial robe.

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis got the ball rolling last month when he gave a court-sanctioned ole to McFadden's lawsuit and he certainly ought to shoulder some responsibility for a big chunk of this.

Davis should have had the courage to say no last month to McFadden and her mother in their fight to have her race alongside other kids, rather than in a separate-timed event, at least until all of the parties had a chance to sit down, away from pressure and publicity, and come up with something reasonable.

Davis had the opportunity last month to say to McFadden and her mother that, on its face, it does not seem practical for everyone for her to be on the track at the same time as able-bodied runners in a competition, especially if her time and placing don't count.

Likewise, Davis could have instructed Howard County and state officials, to come up with a plan that could make McFadden's dreams workable without making a mockery of the competition. Failing that, he could have just said that McFadden's times would go into the record books, but with an asterisk.

There's no doubt that Smith and the rest of the Atholton Raiders track team would have accepted any of that over what they got Saturday.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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