Shawnee Dispatch

Championship handoff

Maranatha’s record-breaking relay team gives medals to disqualified competitors

Mallory Keith, left, hands the state championship medal she and her Maranatha Academy 3,200-meter relay team won to an opponent from Pittsburg-St. Mary’s Colgan. Enlarge photo

June 3, 2009

— Like so many other athletes, the Maranatha Academy girls 3,200-meter relay members climbed to the top of the awards stand on Saturday at the track and field state championships at Cessna Stadium, received their first-place medals and were recognized as state champions.

It was the moments that followed — nearly lost amid the distraction of other races and events, announcements and award presentations — when perhaps the most heartwarming story of the state meet unfolded.

As the other medalists in the Class 2A 3,200 relay left the awards stand, Maranatha senior Ali Bailey, juniors Bethany Zarda and Mallory Keith and freshman Christa Courtney huddled together. They gazed at their gold medals, had a quick heart-to-heart and descended the stairs back down to the infield.

A minute later, they gave their medals away.

“As a team we all feel like we ran our hardest, we ran as a team, but we did not deserve first place,” Bailey said. “Second place was ours, and the only right thing to do was give them what they deserve.”

“Them” is the squad from Pittsburg-St. Mary’s Colgan, which actually crossed the finish line first. It’s a team the Eagles raced against at regionals, and they struck up a quick friendship.

“At regionals I said those are seriously some of the nicest girls ever,” Zarda said. “I ran against some of them in the open eight (800 meters) too, and you can tell that their hearts are sincere and that they’re actually having fun.”

The fun stopped at state for St. Mary’s Colgan when it was disqualified because of an exchange zone violation, despite finishing three seconds ahead of Maranatha.

After strong first and second legs of the race by seniors Hillary Dickey and Chelsea Duncan, junior Emmalia White was cruising through the third leg of the relay. As she neared the finish line with St. Mary’s Colgan maintaining a comfortable 20-meter cushion, White collapsed. She picked herself up, took a few more steps and crumpled to the ground again. This time she didn’t move.

Junior Faith Miller, the team’s anchor runner, came to the edge of the exchange zone, reached down and grabbed the baton from White. The lead was gone, but not for long, as Miller tracked down a runner from Olpe High School and seemingly lifted St. Mary’s Colgan to a state championship.

Bailey ran a scorching final leg for Maranatha, passed the Olpe runner on the home stretch, closed the gap on St. Mary’s Colgan, but was still 10 meters behind at the finish line.

The Eagles celebrated. They’d entered the race seeded eighth and finished second.

“We broke the school record, and that’s all we wanted to do,” said Zarda, whose relay team’s time of 10 minutes, 7.38 seconds, crushed the previous Maranatha record of 10:16. “I even told our group right after (Bailey) crossed the line, I was like ‘hey, we got second, but at least we got second to the nicest team ever!’”

Both teams shared hugs and congratulations.

Then, both teams’ moods changed. St. Mary’s Colgan had been disqualified. When Miller reached to take the baton from White, her toe crossed the line for an exchange zone violation.

“We saw them when they broke the news,” Zarda said. “We saw them all break down and cry.”

The ruling didn’t sit well with the Eagles.

“When we found out, we were crushed because that team rightfully deserved first place,” Bailey said. “That girl that fell … my heart goes out to her. I’ve seen it happen before, and the only thing we can do is reach out to that team, and I think by giving them our medals it’s the only way we could show how much they deserved it.”

The Eagles went through the formality of climbing the podium and having their picture taken with the other medalists. Then they left the awards stand, found the St. Mary’s Colgan team and made their most important handoff of the day.

Again, hugs were swapped. This time both teams cried. In an instant, the Eagles turned St. Mary’s Colgan’s devastation into something much more positive for both teams.

Bailey, Zarda, Keith and Courtney won’t have the medals to commemorate their state championship years from now, but in the long run it won’t really matter to them. They have their school record, they have their memories of a race that captivated the 15,000 or so fans in the stands, and they have the piece of mind in knowing that they did what they believed was right.

“It’s not really about the medals,” Zarda said. “It’s about how you compete and your mindset and how much you give. If you give it your all, that’s all you can ask for.”

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