#FreeTheFro – Georgia Runner Stripped of Finish Due To Bible Verse on His Headband?

... the fight continues on his behalf, and the entire team, as it has dramatically affected their standing.

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John Green had apparently run the race of his life.  He’d just finished third at the GHSA Class AAAAA state championship cross-country race.  His team was set to have its best team finish ever.  Only when he got done and looked, instead of finishing third, he was listed as last.

All because of a headband with a Bible verse on it that he’d turned inside out.

From the Forsyth County News:

In Saturday, West Forsyth’s John Green was the third runner out of 226 to cross the finish line in the Class AAAAAA state championship race at Carrollton High School. Soon after collapsing from his effort and offering, as well as receiving, high fives from opponents as they walked by the cool-down tent, Green found out he placed 226th out of 226.

The Georgia High School Association’s inconsistent enforcement of a vague, incorrigible rule is to blame for stripping Green from his greatest race in his senior season.

Green was disqualified by GHSA officials for sporting a white, plain head band with “Isaiah 40:30-31” written across the front—the same head band the Forsyth County News has photo evidence of him wearing when he was not disqualified in last year’s state meet.

According to West head coach Clayton Tillery and others involved in the West program, two GHSA officials cleared Green’s headband before the race. Then, a third man who was not in an official uniform or credentialed made a comment about the headband at the starting line and walked away.

When I approached GHSA officials on Saturday to discuss the ruling I was told “it was a uniform violation,” but when I asked to see in a GHSA handbook where the rule is I was shooed away.

Luckily for us, the GHSA’s handbook is conveniently located on the internet, however.  Here’s what it says about headgear:

Beanies, toboggans, ear covers are permitted if of a single color, unadorned (one logo only).

Headbands aren’t mentioned anywhere.  They’re not banned, nor expressly permitted.  As the next page in the handbook has a very long list of equipment that is explicitly illegal for whatever reason, and there’s no headband on there, Green and his coach have every reason to believe his headband was legal.

In an email statement sent to school officials, obtained by Same Page Nation, assistant coach Scott Griffith notes that the entire team, including John Green, was inspected.   “The official made Brock Nordin remove two water absorbing sweat wrist bands.   She carefully looked at each of our athletes for uniform violations and declared us to be clear and ready to race,” the statement said.

Further, another official asked to see Green’s headband.  Due to the writing, Green was asked to turn it inside out, which Tillery reports that he did.  Not only that, but Green wasn’t alone in wearing a headband.  Griffith said “The eventual race winner from Marietta has more hair than John and he used a headband Saturday. If I counted correctly 4 of the 7 starters from team runner-up Brookwood competed with headbands.”

To make matters even more baffling was the fact that Green has worn this headband since the third race of his sophomore year.  Green, now a senior, has only had an issue one other time.  That issue stemmed from a Nike logo, and Green simply removed the logo and had no further problems regarding a headband … until this race.

That was when the coaching staff tried to appeal and things get really weird.

Most importantly, our coaching staff did not believe that headbands are considered “part of the uniform” and are not subject to uniform rules in the same way that socks are not specially addressed in the rule book.

  1. Upon appeal to the jury, Coach Tillery asked the officials to produce the specific area in the rule book that caused our athlete to be disqualified.   They were unable to point to any specific rule that was broken.   If there is no specific uniform violation language around headbands in the rule book, how could a uniform violation have occurred?   If John did not break a rule, we believe he cannot be disqualified from the race and his individual result and our appropriate team placing must be reinstated.
  2. When questioned, the gentleman in the orange shirt repeated several times, “I told the athlete and the coach to take off the head band, he took it off, later put it back on and because of that my hands are tied.   The rules are the rules and he must be disqualified.”   If, in fact, there is no headband rule, then his rational is inconsistent with the rules and John must be reinstated.
  3. Finally, even if someone might argue that the writing on John’s headband made him in violation of a rule, I do not believe that we broke in any way the “spirit” of a rule meant to fend off the commercialization of high school sports or the opportunity for athletes to make any kind of personal statement that would be inappropriate for a high school sporting event.   Once John’s headband was turned inside out, while it is possible that someone with a discerning eye would be able to tell that there was something written on the headband, they certainly would not be able to read it as John was flying by at 5:20/mile pace. It is hard to understand how an unreadable, inside out bible verse is something harmful to our sport and worthy of a post race disqualification of a student athlete.
  4. John was disqualified for a UNIFORM VIOLATION that we believe he did not commit.   However, it is my personal belief, based upon an at least 5 minutes of conversation with the orange shirted official, that John was disqualified because the official thought John willfully and perhaps arrogantly disobeyed the official’s instructions.   While it is true that John did take off the head band in front of the official as instructed and later competed in the same headband, he did so under instructions from his coaches, who told him to put it back on so he could compete safely.

A photo of Green, wearing the headband in dispute:

Photo courtesy of Britt Smith
Photo Credit: Britt Smith. team photographer

Honestly, if you can read it, more power to ya.  We sure can’t, and that’s in a freeze frame photo.  Clipping along? No way.

The only thing we’ve been able to figure out is that the problem is what’s written on the headband, rather than the fact there was any semblance of a logo.  Since the GHSA doesn’t seem interested in talking, that means we have to figure it out for ourselves.

That really doesn’t make the GHSA look any better, however.

There is still conversation ongoing between local and state athletic officials on this matter, which they hope will lead to resolution. While declining to speak on the matter directly at this time,  Coach Griffith did have this to say:

“I’ve found so much personal satisfaction coaching our young people. So pure in some many ways. That is why this situation has me so upset. Cried more than once over the last couple of days.”

What do you think?  We’re interested in hearing your theories as to why Green was disqualified after several years of wearing the exact same headband.

Kim Paris contributed to this report.



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