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Commentary: What should be done with the Niles West Sectional?

The St. Ignatius team with former St.Ignatius state champ from 1980 Mike Patton. The team later found out that they would not be going to the state meet due to an officials mistake. Photo Courtesy of Ed Ernst of St. Ignatius

By Michael Newman

Having followed high school cross country since I began running in 1976, I have experienced every kind of feeling leaving the cross country course. I have left a course in total elation after winning a state meet. I have left a xc course in total loss of hope after losing a state meet.

It is a part of any sport. It is a life learning process that an athlete experiences in every workout, in every race. Everyone cannot leave the cross country course in total jubilation. There will be runners that finish first. There will be runners that are happy that their goals have been met. There will be runners that have had their dreams elude them.

I left the Niles West campus Saturday afternoon after watching the Sectional Cross Country races with total emptiness. I had not run a race even though in my 50 year old body it felt like it. I had just witnessed for the second year in a row a mistake that had been made that cost a team a chance to run at the state meet. It was not the athletes that had run in the meet but the adults that were running it. The heartbreak was caused not by a bad race by an athlete or just a bad team performance, but just a group of mistakes made by adults.

In the Boys Sectional race of 2011 on this course, Niles West’s Neal Omar collapsed just before he crossed the finish line. He was given the place of 27th when his feet finally rolled over the timing mats. In actuality, his torso hit the mat before his feet did. Torso has been used as the determinant in finishes. There was no rule that video review was to be used last year. The results were published and Niles West, the team that was affected, noticed that they were wrong. After the race officials reviewed the video that was taken at the finish line, it made the correction.

Maine South was the team that was affected on that day. They went from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat in a matter of 45 minutes. It is painful to watch the sorrow in their face. The helplessness of why is this happening to us. The Maine South administration went to Bloomington to appeal the decision. They were turned down.

What was done after that…?

I have to applaud Ron McGraw, the IHSA administrator of Cross Country and IHSA Assistant Executive Director for being very proactive in this situation. He realized the situation that had happened and acted on it. In the 2012-13 Rules Interpretation Video that every school is required to view before the beginning of the season, changes were made by the IHSA in regards to the regional and state series finish line and how they are to be operated. The rules that were adopted are the same as used at the State Finals at Detweiller Park.

In that video it stated:

“The terms and condition items IX-G and VIII-3 now requires that the meet referee at all regional and sectional meets must review the required video of the finish of each race.

The required review will help guarantee that all close finishes have been evaluated in these qualifying events just as they are at the state final races.”

 It was a rule that was pushed by St. Ignatius Boys Cross Country Coach Ed Ernst. It was kind of ironic that this would affect him at the 2012 meet. It was something that he wrote about in his own blog on January 16th of this year. In the end of it, Ernst wrote:

“What I should be happy about, finally, is that I was part of a larger process which produced a change that should help with the situations that came up in the sectionals last fall. As a coach and as an official, I am much more confident about getting correct results at the high stakes sectional meets in the future by using the video review.”

Did the new rules help in 2012?

At the Schaumburg Sectional that I was at on Saturday morning, it took like it seemed forever for the official results to be posted. The thing was, I had no problem with that. It is done at the state meet where they were looking at every runner crossing the line making sure that the names on paper matched the pictures in front of them. The same procedure was done at Schaumburg. There was anxiousness from the coaches of why weren’t the results done. But when they were posted, there were no complaints.

Before I started to write this, I went back to review the letter that was sent to all participating coaches and was available online at the Niles West website. In the letter under Race Finish / Results, it stated:

The finish line will also be videotaped. The videotape MAY be used by the Games’ committee to settle disputes. Complete results will be available to each coach at the conclusion of the meet. Race results will not be posted or announced until they have been signed by the officials.

What was sent out to the coaches does not match what the IHSA changed. Hence maybe that is where some of the confusion was.

The full review was not in place in this meet. Twenty five minutes after the race was completed, they were published. I was standing by the car where the computers were and where I was given a copy. Not much of a wait I thought.

Lane Tech finally saw the results and then filed the complaint. The problem was, the results were already published and St. Ignatius thought they were in. Lane Tech was right to protest this. Later after everything was completed, Ed Ernst stated, “Last year, I was the one who was very assertive that a video review was done. Today they did not do it. I talked to the official and they looked at some of the close finishes. That is not want they did. They were supposed to check the whole thing.”

What caused the problem?

 What caused everything to go haywire was that Lane Tech had 7 runners finish and only six were recorded at the finish line. Lane Tech’s fourth runner David Schimeg 44th place finish was not recorded and his name did not show up in the results. Lane Tech Coach Kris Roof asked for the review when the results were published.

Why did he not register on the official results? Niles West Boys Coach and Meet Director Michael Grossman explained to me after the final results were released that Schimeg had both chips on the same foot. It counteracted and forced the chips not to be readable.

Let’s make this clear what so ever: IT IS NOT DAVID’S FAULT! When you get close to a big event and you are that young, your mind is only on one thing: the race. Just get to the line and fire the gun. The details are supposed to be handled by adults to get you there. In looking at it deeper, the ball was dropped a couple of times to the point where if things were done correctly, we would not even be talking or writing about this.

First: What happened at the starting line? Were the officials that were checking people in at the starting line checking to see that runners had chips on each of their feet. I know bibs are checked. I know that at the starting line, officials will make sure that every runner from the same school must have the same uniform on. It is apparent that the chips were not checked by the clerk of the course or the official checking in runners. Thank goodness that the IHSA is putting chips in the bibs for this year’s state meet.

Second: Why didn’t the coaches make sure that their kids were ready to go in regards to this? When talking to Maine South girls coach Jeff Dowling after all of this had transpired, I asked him did he check to make sure. “Yes, we had someone checking and making sure that every kid had a chip on each foot,” he replied. I know there is paranoia in regards to the chips especially when they are supposed to be turned in afterwards.

The coaches knew that their athletes should have a chip on each foot. In the letter that Niles West sent out, it stated:

Each runner will wear an assigned number and two racing chips (one on each foot.”

 In the Chicago Public League Sports Blog, there was a blog entitled “Tony’s Take – Sectional Special” written by Lane Tech assistant coach Tony Jones.

In that blog, Jones stated:

“The team arrived at Niles West several hours before game time. The girls race would go off at 1:30p and the boys at 2:30p. The team captains were now in charge of the pre-race detail up till course run throughs….My boys started their strides and accelerations 15 minutes before the race. They would do two or three and then relax. As well, the check-in of bibs, uniforms, and race chips were complete. Finally, the pre-race hyped came to an end when the meet starter called the runners to stop doing strides and report to the starting line.”

 Here again, if each one of Lane’s kids were checked by a Lane Tech coach or someone assigned by a Lane Tech official, then it would have been noticed that Schimeg was missing one chip on one of his shoes. It was not done in this case.

If it was done, by either the officials at the starting line or the coaches of Lane Tech, then the correct results would have been posted and then we would have not had the heartbreak that the St. Ignatius Boys team, parents, and coaches went through.

Let’s make it clear. It is not David Schimeg’s fault and Lane Tech deserves to go to state because they earned it. But there was so much of a lack of thoroughness on so many levels it makes me sick. There were so many things that needed to be done after that meet on Saturday night that I should have done that I did not.

So what should be done?

There is the saying fool me once shame on you…Fool me twice, shame on me. Maybe the IHSA should take notice of this. Yes, Niles West has hosted this sectional for the last 12 years. They have been so helpful to me when I have requested information for the meet or access to the finish line or getting results in a timely manner. I have no bad feelings to any of the staff.

This is two years in a row that there has been a problem. I was hoping that after last year, there would be no problems. But there was.

I do not know what the right solution is in regards to Niles West hosting any future sectionals. It is not my decision and something that none of us should be responsible for. It is all up to Ron McGraw and the IHSA to decide.

If this sectional does come back to Niles West in 2013, I will be there covering and watching. I won’t even mind waiting and waiting for the results. Honestly I won’t.

I just don’t want to see any more heartbreak from an official’s mistake when I leave that Fieldhouse.



Niles West Boys Sectional : Scoring controversy clouds Keelan and York wins

The start of the Boys Sectional Race at the Niles West Sectional. York’s Chris May was knocked down causing a restart. Photo By Doug Ackerman.

Skokie, Ill — Was this déjà-vous? It seemed like we had done this dance before. Last year it was Maine South that was notified that they would be going to the state meet and then told that because of a scoring error that they finished sixth.

It was hope against hope that this would not happen again. But it did.

After what happened last year, the IHSA revised its Regional / Sectional Finish Line procedures. In the terms and conditions items IX-G and VIII-3, it requires that the meet referee at all regional and sectional meets must review the required video of the finish of each race. According to the IHSA, the required review would help that all close finishes have been evaluated in these qualifying events just as they are at the state final races.

After the race was over, the referee supposedly reviewed every finisher. Apparently not. When the results were posted, Lane Tech Coach Kris Roof had noticed that 1 of his runners was missing. He notified meet manager and Niles West Head Coach Michael Grossman of the error. They went reviewed the tape and the change was made. Lane Tech was moved from 6th to 4th and qualifying for the state meet. This time it was St. Ignatius that had the rug pulled out from under them. Originally scored as the fifth place team, they were moved into sixth and thus not qualifying as a team.

In talking to Grossman, he stated that the Lane Tech runner that was missed, David Schmieg who was the fourth man and finished 44th, was wearing both timing chips on the same foot. With that happening, the chips were not read and his place was not properly recorded.

“Last year, I was the one who was very assertive that a video review was done. It is just a bit of irony,” St. Ignatius Coach Ed Ernst said. “Today they did not do it. I talked to the official and they looked at some of the close finishes. That is not want they did. They were supposed to check the whole thing.  Physical bodies count. Thank goodness it is not a chip world yet and the Lane Tech and Glenbard West boys beat us fair and square. The more interesting question would be what would we had done if there had not been a video review and they put us in and the Lane Tech kids had beat us. Do we say no send them? In sports, that is what you are supposed to do. The kids are crushed but Jack has a new mission.”

St. Ignatius’ Jack Keelan starts to break away from York’s Scott Milling on his way to a sectional win at the NIles West Sectional. Photo by Steven Koch.

St. Ignatius’ Jack Keelan had a busy morning before his race. He took the ACT test which eased his mind away from the race. It took him away from the 2011 race where he entered as one of the race favorites but finished 17th and not qualifying individually. He was in a fresh piece of mind ready to go.

The race was called back after about 100 meters when York’s Chris May was knocked down. “It was a stupid move by me,” May, who finished 3rd, said. “I should have run in a straight line instead I wanted to get immediately on the course line. It was my fault.”

Within the first half mile of the race, it already was defined what was going to happen. Keelan went immediately to the front and Scott Milling of York and Micah Beller of Niles North went right with him. 5 meters back it was the York trio of May, Kyle Mattes, and Alex Mimlitz. With them were Jon Vaccaro of Maine South and Marcelo Burbano of Lane Tech.

Keelan and Milling were side by side for the next mile as Beller dropped off the pace. Forty meters back was the York trio. The team race was already determined as York had 4 of the first 5 places and their fifth man Alex Bashqawi was around 15th.

Keelan made a strategic break from Milling on the last mile loop as soon as they came out of the woods. “I knew that the stretch where I made the break was pretty windy. Even though you might be feeling tough I wanted to break him there,” Keelan said.

Keelan finished 14:44 on the new layout at Niles West. Milling finished second in 14:53 leading a York 2-5 sweep. Bashqawi’s 15th place gave them a low 29 points. Maine South, New Trier, and Glenbard West along with Lane Tech were the other team qualifiers. This is the first team performance for the Glenbard West’s boys team since they finished 5th in 1978.

York’s thought of collapse last week at Lake Park looks like an illusion and the Dukes appear again on track heading to Peoria. All York Coach Joe Newton said was “I thought they looked good today.”

“I definitely wanted to see what I could do today. Having Jack in our sectional was a perfect opportunity to try that instead of waiting until state,” Milling said afterwards. “That last two weeks we have run pretty good workouts so I am definitely confident. We are definitely happy with our performance. We are looking forward to next week.”

Keelan escaped the demons that haunted him on the course this day. “It is something that has been lingering  but taking the ACT kept my mind off of that,” he said. “It was a great race by Milling. It was bold and it paid off. I think he had a good time. It felt good. Especially to get past the course today, it felt good.”

The one memory that he erased in winning the race was replaced by his team thinking that they had qualified but had not. A devastated Keelan walked out slowly from the Niles West Fieldhouse. All he could say was “Now I have something else to run for in Peoria.”

He will not be out on that course alone in Peoria on Saturday afternoon. The strength of his teammates will be with him.

Look for more thoughts about what happened Saturday at Niles West in a commentary Monday morning.

Niles West Girls Sectional: Perez leads Glenbard West to team title in high powered sectional

Madeline Perez of Glenbard West enroute to the sectional title at Niles West. Photo by Steven Koch.

Skokie, Ill — Madeline Perez of Glenbard West last week called it a “mini-state meet”. She was right. Three of the top 4 teams in the state went to the line at the Niles West Sectional in what it seemed to be a check up a week before the state meet.

It was a chance to see where teams matched up against each other. It was a chance for the individual runners to test themselves one last time.Perez has come on strong the last couple of weeks just being edged out two weeks ago by Emma Fisher at the West Suburban Silver Meet and last week with a convincing win over Fisher and Lake Park’s Kaylee Flanagan. Throw in to this field New Trier’s trio of Courtney Ackerman, Mimi Smith, and Jessica Ackerman, Olivia Ryan of Fenwick, and Maine South’s Emily Leonard you find a pretty tough field.

The first mile started unexpectingly slow. Kaylee Flanagan all year has pushed the pace early daring runners to stay with her. It backfired last week when Perez zoomed by her at the 1 ½ mile point. The pace was 5:25-5:30 and all the runners that expected to be there was there.

As soon as the pack passed the mile mark, the course turned right and Courtney Ackerman took off wanting to steal the race at that point. The trio of Fisher, Perez, and Flanagan were 10 meters back. Then a pack led by Lisa Luczak of Glenbard Westwas another 5 meters behind the trio.

Perez made her move on Ackerman after the 1 ½ point and she did not look back. The rest of the race for Perez was a race against the clock and a race against herself. The gap continued to grow for the Glenbard West junior. Fisher and Luczak moved past a fading Ackerman but they ran out of time. Perez’s margin of victory was an amazing 24 seconds over Fisher. Luczak and Courtney Ackerman finished within two seconds of each other and 10 seconds behind Fisher.

If anything could be told from this race is that Perez will enter the state meet at Detweiller Park as the favorite in the 3A race.

“The pace went out comfortably compared to what it has been the last couple of weeks. I was really happy how it went out,” a happy Perez said after her race. “The minute she (Courtney Ackerman) took off, I knew I just had to stay in contact with her. I felt comfortable in the last mile. I told myself it was one last mile and push the pace and to see how hard I could go.”

The team race was fantastic and it is interesting to look at the dynamics of it. 15 points separated the first three teams. #2 Glenbard West took the team title with 60 points. #4 New Trier was second with 68. Lake Park was third with 75. York and Maine South claimed the other two qualifying spots. When it comes to the state meet next week, it could be closer between these three teams. Glenbard West has their front two in Perez and Luczak who were in the top 3. New Trier’s first three finished 4-6-9. Flanagan was the only Lake Park finisher in top 10, but the Lancers had solid 40 second split between 2 and 5.

“Our plan was to run our race, but we knew we had to go out faster,” said Glenbard West Coach Paul Haas referring to his 3-7 runners slow start last week at regionals. “Sectional is going to go out fast and state is going to go out faster. This is what we train for.  Our 4-5, two freshman, kept moving and moving and that was the difference with us.”

Glenbard West’s fourth and fifth runners (Grace Rogers and Christina Sedall) finished 20th and 21st; New Trier’s four-five of Kathleen Keene and Ooma-Jung Beeman finished 23rd and 24th. Lake Park’s four-five of Brianne Murphy and Nicole Alfano finished 19th and 23rd.

If that order changes then we would’ve had a different outcome. It will be an interesting meet at Detweiller on Saturday to say the least.