For all the value we place on "sportsmanship," the line separating a rule violation from a show of respect for an opponent is blurry. And sometimes, that just doesn't seem fair.
At a Wisconsin girls' high school cross country sectional meet on Oct. 25, a runner from Weston's D.C. Everest High School collapsed near Teagan Monfils, a junior at Shawano High School. Rather than trample or run around the girl, Monfils slowed to help her to her feet and practically carried her across the finish line.
Both competitors -- the one who couldn't finish the race without assistance and the one who would not let her opponent wither on the course -- were disqualified.
Rules designated by the National Federation of State High School Associations prohibit one runner from assisting another. That makes sense, I suppose. But at what point do extenuating circumstances enter the discussion?
The National Federation recently introduced the "Sportsmanship, It's Up to You" campaign, which is based on respect and involves personal responsibility. And a public service announcement from the organization, created especially for National High School Activities Month in October, declared that "everyone's behavior should be characterized by generosity and genuine concern for others."
The second she stopped to help, Monfils gave up her shot at achieving a new personal record, let alone winning the race, so why DQ her for adhering to the spirit of national sportsmanship standards? Might her DQ cause high school athletes to think twice before "displaying genuine concern for others" if doing so could lead to an individual disqualification or a team loss, or backfire in some other way?
Consider the online outrage after Oak Harbor High School in Washington forfeited the Wesco 3A North Division championship to rival Marysville-Pilchuck High School, where a student had opened fire in the cafeteria on game day, eventually killing four classmates and himself.
While many commenters on a Yahoo! Sports story about the forfeit gave props to Oak Harbor's administration, coaches and players for voluntarily accepting second place, others took offense at the move, posting such ruthless comments as "Today's America is pathetic" and "Oak Harbor needs to grow a pair."
They could learn something from Monfils' coach, Steve Stomberg. Of the sacrifice his runner made, Stromberg told reporters "It's a proud moment.
"You want your kids, always, to do the right thing."