It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The state high school track and field championship meet is designed to determine who is the best in head-to-head competition at the end of the spring season.
This year’s Class 1A boys 3,200-meter run didn’t really decide anything, and it certainly was not the fault of the competitors who gutted out a tough race on a steamy hot day in Des Moines on Thursday afternoon.
“This is one of the most shameful things I’ve ever seen as a coach,” said George-Little Rock coach Curt Fiedler.
The race started out as it normally would, but then the meet official who was responsible for ringing the bell to signify the start of the final lap did so at the completion of lap six. The problem with that is it is supposed to be an eight-lap race.
“I had forgotten to write one of the splits down so I was looking down at my sheet when I heard the bell ring,” said Gehlen Catholic coach Jeremy Schindler. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, they have two laps left.’ Then I hear the announcer saying it’s the final lap with (Joe) Anderson from George-Little Rock and (Will) Roder from Gehlen Catholic in front. We’re all screaming that it’s not the last lap, but they can’t hear us. I look up and I see the pace is picking up in the race like it naturally would on the last lap.”
None of the meet officials that were standing at the side of the track attempted to correct the error and let the runners know there were two laps left, according to the coaches.
“I could see that Joe just thought Will was making his move at the 600-meter mark so he tried to stay with him,” Fiedler said. “I don’t know why there wasn’t someone down there telling them they hadn’t run enough laps yet. They have all those guys down there and the stadium announcer, yet no one did that.”
At the end of the seventh lap, Anderson slowed down briefly but realized he hadn’t run eight laps so he kept going. Some of the others, including Roder, slowed way down or came to a stop, thinking the race was over.
After eight laps, Anderson had the fastest time and Roder was third. Fiedler said Anderson knew there was a problem.
“I know when we were talking after the race Joe said ‘I don’t feel good about winning this way. I don’t feel good about how that went.’ It shows Joe’s character,” Fielder said.
After the race, the meet officials called for what Iowa High School Athletic Association communications director Chris Cuellar termed a “long coaches meeting.”
Fiedler called it a sham.
“They had their minds made up how they were going to resolve it,” he said. “It didn’t matter what us coaches said. The one guy came in and said ‘Well, I’ve been here for 37 years and,’ then I stopped him and I said, ‘I don’t care how many years you have been doing this. We want to know what you are going to do about it.’
“They told us and I kept asking them what other options were considered. They really didn’t want to tell us. I finally got them to say a few things. When it was done I asked them does this mean if my kid is leading the 1,600 on Saturday after three laps he gets to step off and he’ll be called the state champion? They said I wasn’t looking at it the right way. I said any way you look at it, you guys screwed up.”
The official decision was to revise the results. The race was considered over after seven laps. Race officials examined the video and decided Roder was in first, followed by Anderson and William Gillis of Central Decatur.
“Distance runners have an internal clock. They know how many laps they’ve ran,” Fiedler said. “Plus, there is a clock right there at the finish line everyone looks at to check their pace. You are punishing the kids that had a presence of mind to finish the race even though you screwed up.”
Social media was buzzing on Thursday and Fielder said a lot of the comments were not fair to Roder either.
Schindler also left with a bad feeling and wasn’t happy with some of the comments he heard either.
“When they looked back at the camera they said 12 of the 14 runners either stopped or slowed down,” Schindler said. “Will stopped. He looked around and tried going again, but after that sprint he had nothing left. The whole thing is just unfortunate. I feel horrible for Joe and I feel bad for Will too. Some of those comments are kind of a low blow. It was neither kid’s fault, and by the time the coaches came in to talk about it the state had their decision made. They weren’t going to listen to us.”
Anderson also took to Twitter after the race, but his comments were far from disparaging to anyone.
“Being stripped of my first-ever state title hurts a lot, don’t get me wrong. But my identity does not come from the trophies that I have won or the ones that have been taken away. It comes from who I am in Christ. The main reason I run is to bring glory to His name, not to win state championships. I still love this sport, nothing will ever change that. I ran the absolute hardest I could today. I am proud of that race. At the end of the day it’s not about how we respond when life goes great it’s about how we respond when bad things happen to us. Congrats to Will he ran a great race.”