Days before the state championship, Lakeland High School’s cross country team has already scored a victory of sorts.
It has won hometown support.
Tonight at 8 p.m., the team’s 13 members will present the signatures of 400 district patrons. They support giving students a chance to beat the odds in Buhl, Idaho, this Saturday.
The eight boys and five girls on the cross country team placed third in this year’s district tournament. According to state rules, that qualifies them for a berth in the state championship meet. But team members were told by school district administrators that they can’t go because they didn’t place high enough in district competition.
In protest, the scrappy team members stationed themselves outside Rathdrum’s IGA store and went door-to-door gathering signatures for a petition.
“When I found out we had a lot of parent support, then I just ran with it,” senior Reid Houck said.
And ran and ran and ran.
Houck’s time in the 3.2 mile race qualifies him individually for the meet. The district was willing to drive him down in its beat-up driver’s ed station wagon, Houck said. One administrator even told him to be happy he was getting to go and not concern himself with the rest of the team, Houck said. That just fueled his ambition.
Houck tried contacting administrators first about the issue, but didn’t receive any return phone calls.
So over the weekend, he called school board members, parents, and rallied the team for a petition drive.
The district recommendation to only let first and second placing teams go to state has been in the athletic guidelines for years, vice-principal Van Tuinstra said.
Lakeland’s athletic director declined comment, while the principal and the assistant superintendent did not return calls.
“If you place third you are not competitive enough. That’s what we’ve heard,” said junior Caleb Weller.
The team’s response to that reasoning is sports aren’t just about competition, said sophomore Dillon Steigemeier, “they want the experience for next year.”
Team members admit they were told at the beginning of the season that only teams placing first or second in the district may travel to a state championship, regardless of whether they qualify by state standards.
But the season’s start lacked the poignancy of last Friday’s district meet, when Lakeland High was announced over the loudspeaker as one of three state-bound teams.
“We had qualified but we knew we couldn’t go,” said Matt Corsi, a junior on the team.
The next day, a newspaper headline read “Hawk boys and girls qualify for state,” worsening the sting of the district’s decision.
“It’s like putting something in your mouth that you taste and then it’s jerked right back out,” said Kirk Thomson.
Team members say they know they won’t be competitive in the state competition. But the team goal for this year was to improve enough to qualify for state.
They’ve earned it, said Clara Primmer, the mother of one of the boys.
“It’s not fair to retain these children,” Primmer said. “They’ve worked hard, I feel.”
Team members also say they’re sentimental about the tentative future of the Lakeland high cross country team. Next year, the students will be split up when another high school is built, and it’s unclear whether there will be enough runners for a team at each school.
School Board Chairman William Reese said the board plans to discuss the team’s situation at a special meeting tonight at 8 p.m.
“I’ve been on the board a year and a half and I didn’t know this policy was in place,” Reese said.
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