Interesting read pertaining to Class A Cross Country having to run with Class AA in the SCHSL State Meet.
Class A and AA cross country coaches,
As you are already aware, the SCHSL has informed us that the Class A and AA XC postseason will be intertwined this year at the qualifying meet on October 27th. That will place 44 schools on the starting line with 39 full teams and somewhere in the neighborhood of 288 runners. The email from Ms. Nessie Harris stated: “I would like to inform you that Class A Cross Country boys have turned in a total of 11 teams to participate in Qualifiers. You have to have a minimum of 12 teams (schools) participating.” That conflation of the words “teams” and “schools” is both nonsensical and NOT present in the SCHSL bylaws or rule book. In fact, the bylaws and rule book are explicitly in contradiction to this statement by Ms. Harris. The SCHSL bylaws state in Section 4 part D on page 3: “The League will sponsor a championship in each classification that has a minimum of 12 of its schools participating.” In the SCHSL rulebook under the cross country section it states again in Rule 1 on page 29: “The South Carolina High School League will sponsor a boys' and girls' championship in each classification that has at least twelve of its schools participating.” Further in the rules section in Rule 7 part A on page 29 it defines a team and a school in cross country terms as: “Individuals or a full team may represent a school.”
Now I am not a lawyer, nor am I a mathematician, but I can read and I can count. Putting those two skills together, I count 15 CLASS A SCHOOLS signed up to compete in the boys’ XC postseason, 11 with complete teams, and 4 more with partial teams (including one with 4 runners). The SCHSL, perhaps in the misguided interest of enhanced competition quality, or maybe to save a few bucks on trophies, has decided to throw the wording of its own bylaws and rulebook out the window and pretend that the language present invokes a requirement of 12 or more complete TEAMS when the word SCHOOLS is used in both the bylaws and rulebook instead. It is not too late to reverse this decision and I am asking for your help in doing exactly that. We don’t have to ask that the SCHSL give us the grace of bending the rules to allow that 12th partial team with 4 runners in Class A (Ridge Spring-Monetta) to count as a full team, nor do we need to plead for time to allow the sport of XC to grow in our Class A community (which it certainly is). All we need to do is demand that the SCHSL apply the bylaws and rulebook as they are written to this situation. It is hard to believe that we even need to ask for the rules to be applied as they are written—how else could they ever be applied? I am not particularly interested in their motivation for this misreading of the rules, but I do know that there is a great deal to be lost by this decision, and that there is no way to undo the damage once it has been done.
Class A Coaches: We know what you and yours have to lose in a combined A/AA meet. You will have to explain to your runners that the championship meet that they have run 10,000 times in their dreams has been moved, in many cases well out of their reach. You have to convince athletes that are involved in club soccer to skip their game on October 27th to come and compete for your team in the qualifying meet that should never have been needed. You know that the A/AA champion will not be a Class A team that fought through the challenges and trials that face our Class A schools--some of the smallest and most poorly funded schools this nation has to offer. You know that some of your athletes that have sweat and bled to qualify for all state honors in a Class A meet will not get that chance. In the best of circumstances, you have to come up with travel money for two trips to Columbia.
Class AA Coaches: Our athletic director at Dixie High School, Coach Frank Brown, asked me to let this issue go without action; in the hopes that we can work in the offseason to avoid this problem again next year. I sincerely hope that this can be avoided next year, but my oldest son is a senior—there is no next year of high school XC for him. Coach Brown is also concerned that pushing this issue with you will alienate the AA schools and harm our ability to work together constructively in the future. I understand his concerns, but believe that you and your athletes are also victimized by this SCHSL decision, and expect that we share much common ground here. Our Class A schools won’t be able to dethrone an eventual AA XC champion, but a virtual meet from season PR’s does predict as many as 4 class A schools may fight through to claim a spot in the November 3rd championship that should by rights belong to a AA school for a AA state meet. There are even a few potential all-state candidates amongst the Class A athletes at that November 3rd meet, robbing a handful of AA runners of that important recognition. There is no reason that this abuse of the rule book by the SCHSL should rob those opportunities from the AA athletes any more than from the Class A runners. Furthermore, you all have an appreciation for high school sports, or you would not coach XC. Imagine how you would have felt as a high school athlete if a capricious decision by your high school league had robbed you of the opportunity to conclude your season, or worse, your high school career in a fair postseason competition. All athletes know their sporting hopes and dreams continually hang in the balance, with the ghost of injury or illness poised to jump up and snatch it all away. I don’t think any of us would have conceived it possible that the league itself would impose an UNWRITTEN rule to unravel all of our efforts. That is exactly what our student athletes are facing now. This ruling by the SCHSL is literally unlawful, unfair to both Class A and Class AA runners, and undeniably cruel. Elite AA schools may not have much to fear from the extra Class A competition, but an SCHSL that can treat the Class A schools in this manner without justification under the rules, can do this to anyone at any time at any level. The non-elite AA programs will have to contend with an additional 11 cross country teams gunning for those 18 qualifying spots. Your athletes have worked hard for this opportunity, and they deserve the full opportunity promised to them under the easy-to-read SCHSL bylaws and rulebook. Simply put, combining the A and AA schools in the XC postseason provides no advantages to anyone and yet has plenty of costs—borne by our student athletes that the SCHSL professes to serve.
I’ll finally conclude with my request: Coaches, please talk with your athletic directors, and consider contacting the SCHSL together to protest this terrible decision to combine the Class A/AA meets in defiance of the rulebook and bylaws. Please also consider forwarding the attached pdf whitepaper to your team parents. In that pdf “call to action” I give a much briefer description of the issue than this email provides, and I implore parents to reach out to their state legislators to intervene with the SCHSL. The SCHSL has repeatedly acted as if it is not accountable to our member schools. Recently, some of the larger and better funded member schools have taken to the court system to address that lack of input and accountability. Our Class A schools do not have the financial wherewithal for that recourse, and perhaps only the state legislature can bring that accountability to bear. Please consider calling or emailing your own legislators in support. It is not too late for the SCHSL to change course in this matter and make the right decision. Please act quickly as the time available to us is short indeed. I talked face-to-face today with my state representative, Mr. Craig Gagnon, and he assures me that a strong state-wide response from coaches and parents will strengthen the hand of the state legislators as they contact the SCHSL. Please help equip them for their work on our behalf by contacting your legislators with this concern.
Yours most sincerely,
Joel E. Boyd, father of two of the greatest XC runners to ever lace ‘em up—regardless of what the clock at the finish line says.
PS. I make no claims to represent Dixie High School in this email, but proudly defend the interest of my own sons and other Class A and AA runners from around the state.