Contributor: The Nerd
Missing the nuance
There have been a number of sports events over the last month that have made me scratch my head:
Maryland high school athlete Brody Buffington was DQ'd after winning his regionals 300-meter race for what a meet official described as excessive celebration or, more technically, "an action which brings discredit to an individual or their school." Brody was the defending State champ in the event and would have advanced to State again if not DQ'd; all of the other athletes in his heat were teammates. Check out the video and RW article here to decide for yourself.
A Washington baseball player was ejected earlier this week, just moments after he hit a game-tying home run in the sixth inning. An umpire ejected him for excessive celebration although the video didn't seem to reflect much more than an excited player.
Nebraska State wrestling participants were notified that their team would lose one team point if a wrestler performed a backflip after a match - something that generally open happens after winning a state title. It's my opinion that distance running, distance swimming and wrestling are the three hardest high school sports; all require extensive training well before the start of the season, can be incredibly painful and often involve significant personal sacrifices. Some media members welcomed the new rule, while I think a backflip after the last match of the season is one of the few fun parts of that sport.
Omaha Burke's Reed Emsick (UNK track commit) landed in the NSAA's crosshairs in early February after playing in a non-sanctioned Unified basketball game with other Burke students. Burke self-reported the activity as soon as the coaches learned about it, and Reed was required to sit out one varsity game according to very rigid NSAA rules.
Sports officials have to make split-second judgment calls in nearly every event they work, but no split-second decisions were required for any of the scenarios above. The head official could have overturned the Maryland DQ, particularly since no other team or coach had standing to complain about the alleged excessive celebration. The umpire at the Washington game had a good twenty seconds to evaluate the home run trot and an unlimited amount of time to talk to at least two other partners on his crew before he made a decision.
Perhaps the NSAA's wrestling backflip rule is related to potential liability if the athlete gets hurt, although assessing a one-point penalty in the team standings isn't going to do much to mitigate that liability. In fact, assessing a penalty to a bad-ass wrestler may give even more of an incentive to do the backflip. So, if not a liability issue, then what? My guess is that an old-guard no-fun wrestling purist proposed the rule, a school sponsored the proposal, and a bunch of other athletic directors voted for it because they didn't really have a strong opinion either way. Maybe I'm wrong.
The more troubling rules concerns outside participation. Should Reed Emsick have known that the NSAA only sponsors Unified bowling and track? Would a reasonable person expect that a Unified basketball game would be treated no differently than, say, going to Nike Nationals in the middle of track season? Reed clearly didn't know the rule and you can't blame him for not asking permission: in this age of inclusion, how is it possible that we penalize a varsity athlete for being a friend to developmentally disabled athletes?
Reed's problem is that he chose to play a Unified basketball game during NSAA's official basketball season. The NSAA's rule is supposed to be in the best interest of an athlete's health, presumably to prevent overuse injuries. However, if Reed had run a cross country race in stifling heat on a Saturday morning and then immediately drove to an all-weekend club soccer tourney to play in similarly-hot conditions (an actual situation last August) - well, that would be ok. If he had played all weekend in a national-level volleyball tournament at the CHI Center and then played sub-district basketball games a day or two later (it happened this past weekend) - that's entirely kosher according to NSAA rules because it's not the same sport. If Reed was on a weekend travel baseball team all fall while playing football Monday through Friday - again, that's absolutely no problem.
The rule even trips up athletes who try to follow the rules. Gabe Hinrichs, one of the few national-level distance athletes we've seen in Nebraska in the last ten years, didn't get to compete at the elite Arcadia (CA) meet last year because of the combination of (a) NSAA rules, (b) NFHS meets require on-site coaches, and (c) not everyone involved would sign off on his participation. An athlete can't compete if everyone in the decision-making chain doesn't fully support these one-off national meets.
However, it's not the NSAA's fault. The NSAA has around 300 high schools that are its bosses and, as such, there is no room for nuance. If you let Reed Emsick avoid a one-game penalty, then "what about the kid from my high school who played in a charity event for a friend who had cancer?" If the NSAA doesn't equally apply the rules that the member schools passed, then the NSAA leadership team will field angry phone calls all week. It only takes one out of 300 athletic directors to raise a stink.
I know a lot of people make a habit of publicly bashing the NSAA. I try not to be one of those guys. I have been highly complimentary of the way the NSAA navigated the return to competition during the COVID epidemic, and they have not stood in the way as this rag-tag group of Nerd volunteers does its best to promote T&F and cross country.
Should the NSAA have a better rule for sports participation? Absolutely. Should we be encouraging more high school students to embrace Unified sports programs? Definitely. However, the only way that can happen is if a member school submits a sane rule proposal that addresses problems like these.
High school sports aren't intended to develop professional athletes. They're intended to help adolescents be healthy, build character and resilience, become good teammates and learn lessons that they can apply the rest of their lives. Sometimes we seem to overlook that.
Performances of the week
We've updated the top marks of the winter open HS season at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/post/winter2023marks for performances through 2/19/23. A few marks are particularly notable:
Claire White (Westside junior) ran in UNL's Tune-Up meet on 2/17/23 with the goal of running sub-5:05 in the mile to qualify for the New Balance Indoor Nationals. Just as she often does in competitive high school races, Claire was in last place at 400 meters before slowly moving up in the pack. She finished in 5th place with a 5:02.02. She'll be headed to Boston in March.
At the Washburn meet on Saturday, Sam Cappos (Lincoln East, ASU commit) unleashed a 61-08 throw in the shot put, just a foot shy of his PR and the second time he's surpassed 60' this winter. He's likely headed to Nike Indoor Nationals. At the same meet, Aizlynn Krafka (GINW junior) ran 9.06 in the 60 hurdles, the second fastest time this winter behind Kate Campos (8.75).
Jaylen Lloyd (Westside, UNL commit) triple jumped for the first time this winter, going 47-00 at Saturday's CSM meet after long jumping 23-00; both are winter bests. He's also planning to attend Nike Nationals.
EJ Brown (Elkhorn South sophomore) proved that her 5-07 jump at Concordia on 2/12 was no fluke; she cleared 5-07 again at CSM on Sunday and had three very good attempts at 5-09.
Katie Shafer (Papio South freshman) blew us away last May when we watched her sweep the 100, 200 and 400 at the PAL SuperMeet; a few weeks later she won the State JH 400 in 58.01 and earned 2nd-place finishes in the 100/200. In what we believe was her first meet of the winter, Katie won the CSM 60 in 7.94 and finished 2nd in the 200 in 26.35. Zakeirah Johnson (Burke junior) was equally impressive, winning the 200 (25.98) and finishing 2nd in the 60 (7.95).
In a 1600 field we'd be thrilled to see at a May invite, 2x state champ Kassidy Stuckey (York junior) won at CSM in 5:14.56 followed by Madison Seiler (Gering, Kenesaw State commit) in 5:16.61, Lilly Kenning (Milford sophomore) in 5:18.03 and Ella Ford (Elkhorn North sophomore) in 5:19.23. Lilly has been the busiest of the four, running at least five indoor meets, dipping under 5:20 three times and establishing a new PR of 5:15. She entered the winter with a 5:39 PR. I asked her why she's made such a big improvement and she said it's not due to increased mileage; she's been running about 20 miles per week but is focusing a bit more on speed than last year.
The distance boys also had a nice weekend. Zack Schulz (Millard North, USD commit) broke away from a field of Class A State XC medalists to win in 4:19 at CSM, while 2022 State XC champ Juan Gonzalez (Fremont sophomore) ran a 9:20 3200 at NWMSU on Sunday.
Broadening their horizons
One of the things I enjoy about winter indoor open meets is the casual nature of them. While high school coaches have been universally great to the Nerd team, during the official season I wouldn't consider talking to the athletes minutes before they toe the line. On Sunday I got to chat with Kassidy Stuckey and Madison Seiler immediately before their 1600 matchup, and Madison shared that both were retired from basketball and trying new things this winter. Madison joined the speech team while Kassidy launched her bowling career. In early February, Kassidy finished 9th at the Class B State bowling tourney, rolling an average of 155 over four games.
On Sunday at CSM I also watched Amari Laing (Millard South senior, uncommitted) go straight from the long jump competition (18-04) to the shot put ring, the second time she's competed in that event. She improved her PR by about three feet with her 36-02 effort. Later in the meet she triple jumped 35-06.25 and ran the 60 in 8.03. I asked her what her led her to try the shot put; she said it had been a long-standing joke with her teammates, so one of the boys on the Millard South team taught her technique. She's mildly interested in multi-events in college, so the winter meets seemed like a good time to explore what she could do. While we doubt she'll dive into the pole vault and 800 this spring, we love her willingness to try new things.
Updated winter marks
We may see a few more winter marks this weekend, but the bulk of our tabulating is done. If you'd like to see who posted the best performances of the open indoor season, you can find our database here.
You can visit our website here for links to all the high school and collegiate track meet results we could find.
One more weekend
Although Concordia and CSM have wrapped up their great series of meets, there are still two more opportunities to compete indoors before the NSAA season opens on Monday, 2/27.
* Trackville in Lincoln is holding a field-event only meet on Saturday. While it's called a jump showcase, the shot put is also being held. There is no charge for athletes or spectators, and several state-leading athletes are already registered. Go to this link to register.
* The HyVee Center in Kansas City is hosting a youth/high school meet on Sunday at its 350-meter track. You can find more details here. It appears to be only for running events; I don't see any field events listed.
The Nerd team hit four meets this weekend. Photos are posted for the first three events listed, and the GPAC photos will be uploaded later this week. Links to all of our Facebook albums can be found here.
* Friday, 2/17 - UNL meet (Nerd)
* Saturday, 2/18 - Chicago Vibefest (5 Nebraska athletes, Nerd Ricky Bobby)
* Sunday, 2/19 - College of St. Mary (Nerd)
* Saturday, 2/18 - GPAC meet at Concordia (Nerd Dawg and High Mileage Nerd)
Looking ahead, I would not be surprised if Nerd Ricky Bobby takes pictures at Saturday's Trackville meet. Nerd the Third and I are tentatively planning on attending the NAIA national meet on Saturday, March 4 in Brookings - so let's hope a bunch of Nebraska athletes advance out of the semifinals. If we're lucky, we'll finally meet Midland's Dylan Kucera.
Looking ahead to the outdoor season, we're thrilled to announce that the Nerd photography team has grown to SEVENTEEN volunteer Nerds. Over the past two months we've added Nerd Dawg, Young Nerd, Nerd Ricky Bobby, Nor'easter Nerd and Nerdka. The full list of Nerds is on the About page of our website. We hit 80 cross country meets last fall; I'm excited to see how many track meets we shoot this spring.
Are we done adding Nerds? Not even close. In fact, I've got my eye on a Skutt mom who just bought a new camera. She thinks she upgraded her camera to only take pictures of Skutt athletes; however, the allure of the Nerd life can be pretty strong.
Never too late
The fast heat of the women's mile at UNL on Friday was a blast to watch. We had advance notice that Claire White had a 5:05 goal, so watching her progress throughout the race was fascinating. However, we were also blown away by the winner of that heat - Bekka Morgan, a thirty-something coach at Lincoln Christian, who won in 4:53 just two weeks after posting a 4:50 at the same track. Bekka and I had exchanged DMs over the past few weeks, but I reached out to her after Friday's race to get more background on her running story.
Bekka (Rebekka Simko) competed at Penn State and Arkansas, graduating in 2015. She only ran the mile a few times in college, posting a PR of 4:40, focusing instead on the 800. She has a lifetime best of 2:02.89 and competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials. After graduation, she focused on her family and now has four boys ages 6, 3, 2 and 1. She's a stay-at-home mom with no family in the area, so most of her runs are at 5:00 a.m. before her husband leaves for work Before this January, she hadn't competed on the track since 2015. She's been training about 25-30 miles per week with at least one weekly speed session, although she often does 200s and 400s in her neighborhood instead of on the track. She doesn't have any grand goals in terms of racing but instead regards running as her fun hobby, which is a big change from the pressure she put on herself in college. She does think that maturity and child-bearing has made her a more resilient competitor, so we hope her coaching commitments allow her to squeeze in a few outdoor races.
On Sunday at CSM I talked to Angee Henry, a member of the CSM coaching staff. Angee was a 10-time All American at UNL as well as a two-time NCAA long jump champion, and I've seen her competing at UNL indoor meets the past two seasons. Here is a rough transcription of our conversations on Sunday:
Nerd: "Hey, I missed seeing you on Friday at UNL."
Angee: "I was at Nationals."
Nerd: "How did you do?"
Angee: "Aleia Hobbs won my 60 heat and then won in the finals, but I set an American age-group record with a 7.67."
Nerd: "Are you kidding? You set an American record? Do you have other records?"
Angee: "I have the 45-49 400 world record. And the long jump American record. But I'm not done with the long jump. I think I can get that world record."
Iowa Western coach standing nearby: "Don't you have the 200-meter American record too?"
Angee: "Oh yeah, I forgot about that."
Track is full of amazing people. If you ask the right questions, you get some amazing answers - even when you're talking to incredibly humble people like Angee and Bekka.
Coach Kabourek of Lincoln East reminded me this week that the Class of 2023 athletes lost their freshman track season to COVID - and then the OPS kids lost their subsequent fall seasons. We'd love to hear from coaches, athletes and parents about the positives and negatives of losing that Spring 2020 season. How did it change them? Did a year away from the sport give them a stronger drive? Are fewer kids participating in track because they didn't get the chance to compete as 7th, 8th or 9th graders? If we get enough feedback, we'll turn it into a standalone article. Please send us your thoughts via DM or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We continue to update our Class of 2023 commitment list at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/post/2023commits. If we've missed an athlete or made an error, please DM us or shoot an e-mail to email@example.com.
Big things at UNK
I caught up with UNK coach Brady Bonsall on Friday. The UNK men's DMR team was ranked fourth in DII going into last weekend after they ran a 9:44 at Pittsburg State the previous weekend. That DMR race included Payton Davis running a sub-2:00 split after falling at the start of his 800 leg, as well as Wes Ferguson closing with a 4:02 1600.
Wes opted to take it easy at UNL due to this weekend's conference meet. He ran the 600 at UNL on Friday. He finished 0.65 seconds behind the DII national record.
It's Wes Ferguson's world and we're just lucky to be living in it.
The Nebraska USTAF association has published its spring/summer meet calendar. Nerd Junior and the Nerd the Third had a brief but fulfilling USATF career while also playing rec soccer and baseball, and I highly recommend the experience for kids who want a bit more exposure to track. The preliminary schedule can be found at https://nebraskausatf.org/main/?p=7872. You don't have to join a local club to participate in meets but there are some solid ones in Nebraska; go to https://nebraskausatf.org/main/?page_id=21 for a listing of clubs. Most clubs are fine with kids making how many ever practices and meets they can; frankly, I wouldn't recommend joining a youth club where attendance is mandatory. Just keep in mind that high school athletes can't compete in USATF meets or practices until their high school season has finished.
Being a running nerd is not just a frame of mind; it’s also a lifestyle. If you’re a nerd, we don’t think you should hide it, which is why we’ve opened a Nerd store on our website. All of the profits from 2021's sales went to provide t-shirts to OPS schools. The Nerd strategy team hasn’t decided what to do with the proceeds from the sales from this current batch, in part because we're $2,000 under water at this point.
In contrast to previous sales, we have the product in stock so the there is not a deadline for orders. However, once a product is out of stock, it probably won't be re-ordered. My personal experience is that the shirts run a little small, but we're thrilled with the quality of the gear. Our store can be found here.
Originally written for and posted in February 2023 at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle. Do you see any errors, typos or key omissions? It's even more likely this week since we're still typing at midnight. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll do our best to correct the article.
Like this coverage of Nebraska high school distance running? There's more of this at www.preprunningnerd.com. Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories, the Articles tab for long-form articles, the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we could find this year, and the Rankings tab for team and individual rankings. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd.
Finally, if you think runners and jumpers are the best thing on earth, you'll enjoy our two most popular articles. In 2018 we published "The Runner with the Broken Heart" about a high school boy who finished last in nearly every race he ran. In 2022 we published, "The Fall and Rise of Emmett Hassenstab," a story about a high school triple who became a quadrapalegic after a swimming accident.