Copyright 2014 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Stevens Point - It's official. The WIAA will move its girls cross country races to 5,000 meters beginning next season.
Friday the Board of Control voted, 10-0, in support of the move, which was precipitated by a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights that claimed girls in the state were being discriminated against because the distance of the WIAA's boys and girls meets were not the same. The boys run 5,000. The girls have run 4,000 since 1993.
The vote is expected to satisfy the civil rights complaint and allows the WIAA to avoid a possible court battle.
"I think the board made the decision that they needed to and the best decision from the big picture of our membership interest," WIAA executive director Dave Anderson said. The vote came after a discussion that included Darlington coach Arnie Miehe and Madison West coach Lee Ann Johnson, who spoke in support of keeping the 4K, and Jefferson's Megan Carstens and Menomonie's Craig Olson, who spoke in support of the 5K.
Wisconsin is now one of 44 states that run a 5K for girls. The change begins in the fall and it only affects the WIAA tournament series, meaning its sectional and state meets (there are no regional meets in cross country). Schools will be able to run their regular-season meets at any distance up to 5,000 meters.
Coaches in the state have been split almost equally on the topic. At the state coaches association clinic earlier this year, they agreed to table discussion of a 5K for girls for three years. The civil rights complaint, however, caused the issue to bypass the WIAA's usual committee channels.
Proponents of the increase say there is no reason girls can't run the same distance as boys. They also point to track, in which boys and girls run the same distances with the exception of the high hurdles. Those in favor of the 4K noted that at the collegiate and professional levels of the sport, the men run farther than the women. They also expressed a fear of lower participation numbers and increased risk of injury.
Ultimately the board's vote wasn't a matter of preference as much as it was a matter of whether the organization could win this battle with the Office of Civil Rights.
"I've been through an OCR complaint one time as an athletic director," board president Dean Sanders said. "It was not any fun and they never leave you alone."
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Copyright, 2014, Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.