Loss by Technicality

May 26th, 2010 by Kathy McManus

A pole vaulter disqualified because of a string bracelet sparks a big debate.

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Like a scene from a movie, 18-year-old high school pole vaulter Robin Laird soared triumphantly over the bar in the final moments of a Southern California track meet, winning the league championship for her team. But minutes later, Laird and her fellow athletes from South Pasadena High School were stripped of their victory, in a clash of gamesmanship versus sportsmanship.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez reports that Laird was wearing “a little string bracelet” she bought last November to support the World Wildlife Fund, “barely aware it was still on her wrist.” While the crowd was cheering Laird’s win, the coach of the losing team complained to officials that Laird should be disqualified because her bracelet violated an athletic league “no jewelry” rule. Judges affirmed the rule, revoked Team Laird’s win, and awarded the championship title to the opposing team.

“It’s unfortunate for the young lady. But you’ve got to teach the kids that rules are rules,” the complaining coach said to Sports Illustrated, insisting he didn’t notice Laird’s string bracelet “until after she cleared the height and walked by.”

“You’d think the adults would have agreed that it’s a stretch to call a few strands of string a piece of jewelry,” Lopez wrote. “But this was youth sports, long the domain of palookas who seem determined to send kids all the wrong messages.” Lopez reports that Laird feels “terrible” about her team’s loss, but she says that while it’s “easy to lose sight of what it’s all about…there’s more to value than a league championship.”