FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. - The Georgia High School Association denied Wednesday that its disqualification of a high school cross country runner was because he wore a headband with the title of a Bible verse written on it.
West Forsyth's John Green finished 3rd out of 226 runners in the Class AAAAAA state championship race at Carrollton High School Saturday.
But after the race, GHSA officials disqualified Green for wearing a white head band with "Isaiah 40:30-31" written across the front.
The Forsyth County News reports Green wore the same head band in last year's state meet where he was not disqualified.
Isaiah 40:30-31 states: "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
In a statement sent to FOX 5, the GHSA denied the Bible verse had anything to do with the disqualification.
The statement reads: "First, let's be completely clear that this disqualification had NOTHING to do with what was written on the athlete's headband. The fact that it was of a religious nature did not enter into the decision whatsoever."
"Also, despite published reports to the contrary, the athlete and his coach were informed BEFORE the start of the race that the headband in question was illegal and could not be worn during the race."
"After being informed that the headband was illegal, the athlete removed the headband and the meet referee assumed he would run the race without it. However, at some point after that, the coach and the athlete made the decision to ignore the warning and the headband was put back on. Since the athlete then ran the race with apparel that had already been ruled illegal, there was no choice but to issue a disqualification."
The statement includes a quote from the meet referee, who was not identified.
According to the referee, "I was called to the start line by the clerk concerning the headband. It was a white headband with large black letters written on it. The coach said he could turn it inside-out and make it legal. He did so, and the writing was still very visible. The rule said the item had to be unadorned except for a logo, and this clearly was not the case. I told the coach and the athlete that he could not wear the headband during the competition. The athlete took it off -- neither the coach nor athlete were happy -- and I left. When I got back to the finish area, I noticed the athlete had a white headband on. So, when I saw him come down the finish hill, I went inside the finish corral to watch him finish, and he had the same headband on. I told the timer to DQ him, I paged the coach, and told the coach of the disqualification."
A spokesman for West Forsyth High told FOX 5, "The district has appealed the ruling. We are sitting tight, waiting on a decision."
But a GHSA spokesman told FOX 5 they are not considering any appeal.
The Forsyth County News reports Green admitted to being upset with the ruling after the race, but said he'd never forget the race he ran and that they can't take that away from him.
Green's disqualification will cost him earning a $500 scholarship from the Atlanta Track Club given to the top seven of its All-Metro First Team.
Despite the disqualification, the Atlanta Track Club says Green is still eligible for a scholarship.
In a statement, Atlanta Track Club Executive Director Rich Kenah said, "John Green is a member of Atlanta Track Club's 2015 All-Metro High School Cross Country Team. While we are aware that John was disqualified at the GHSA Cross Country State Championships, he exhibited a strong performance at the meet and had an outstanding season as a whole, which met the criteria of our All-Metro selections. A vote among coaches and the public determines who is named to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd All-Metro Teams, and John is still eligible to be named to the first team and receive the $500 scholarship."
In its statement, the GHSA provided a copy of the rules cited in the disqualification.
NFHS Rules Book, page 14, Section 4 REFEREE, Article 6. "The referee has the sole authority for ruling on infractions or irregularities not covered within the rules." The headband was not specifically covered in the rules.
GHSA Cross Country Coaches Handbook, page 3, bullet 7 "Beanies, toboggans, ear covers are permitted if of a single color, unadorned, (one logo only)." Since this rule included headwear, the referee included the headband with the other headwear. Therefore, the headband had to be unadorned.
NFHS Rules Book, page 71, top paragraph reads "For the wearing of an illegal uniform, when a violation is observed and noted by a meet official, the competitor shall be required to make the uniform legal before becoming eligible for further competition, and shall be issued a warning that a subsequent violation shall result in a disqualification from the event."