Two of the best distance runners in Missouri won't be competing at one of the premier national competitions over the spring track and field season this weekend in California.
In a decision that sets a precedent for national-caliber athletes at Blue Springs High and Blue Springs South in the future, the Blue Springs School District denied an exemption for Victor Mugeche and Victoria Findley from competing at Arcadia Invitational on April 7.
Mugeche, a senior at Blue Springs who finished with the eighth-fastest 2-mile time in the county over the indoor season (9:08.03), and Findley, a senior at Blue Springs South who finished with the 27th-fastest 3200m effort over the indoor season (10:49.33), were set to join an accomplished field in the 3200m, annually one of the best contingents of distance running in the country.
On a state level, the Missouri State High School Activities Association does not have bylaws forbidding student-athletes from traveling out of state to compete -- last year, in fact, Lafayette (MO) High graduate Austin Hindman finished second in the 3200m.
However, school districts can choose to enforce their own policies. Neighboring Lee's Summit School District, for instance, allowed KC Lightfoot, a national-caliber pole vaulter, to compete at the Texas Relays this past weekend.
Victor's brother, Stephen, ran at Arcadia Invitational in 2014 as an unsigned junior.
MileSplit spoke with Blue Springs School District activities director Mark Bubalo on Monday about the decision for both athletes. We've decided to print Bubalo's responses verbatim.
MileSplit: What went into the decision by the Blue Springs School District to deny two athletes, Victor Mugeche and Victoria Findley, from getting an opportunity to race in California at Arcadia Invitational?
Bubalo: It's just a school district policy. We don't generally send teams out of state to compete in California. And in this case, it would be individuals. So, it's just a district policy we are following.
Could you define the meaning behind the school district's policy on providing exemptions for athletes to compete out of state?
It isn't just about cost. It's about missing class time. It's about not going to a meet with the rest of your team. And it's just about traveling that distance to go to a high school track meet. We have plenty of high school track meets right here in Missouri. We didn't feel like, in terms of what our philosophy is in high school sports, we didn't feel like they should attend a meet in California when the rest of their teammates are competing in Missouri.
We didn't think they needed to go that far to run against good competition. I think the philosophy that the district is taking here is this: At some point you have to put some restrictions or some guidelines as to how far you let travel to let students represent your school. Is a national meet a necessity? We don't think it is. We think both Victoria Findley and Victor Mugeche are outstanding athletes who represent their schools well and can do that in Missouri. I don't feel a national track meet competition is in the best interest of our student-athletes.
Victor's brother, Stephen, competed at Arcadia in 2014. Could you explain the difference between his allowance and this denial?
Stephen, he did go. I understand that he did. I was not personally involved in that decision, which is neither here nor there. The main difference from what I understand, the main difference is that at the time, Stephen did not have a scholarship offer from a Division I school. And he was a junior, I believe. I do know the crux of the matter. It was him getting some exposure in order to get a Division I scholarship. And the administration agreed at that time that he could go. He did go on his own expense. No coaches went. No district monies were spent. I guess it did result in him getting a scholarship. They felt it was successful because he got a track scholarship to Arkansas. He has since has transferred to Missouri.
This is different. They (Victoria and Victor) both have Division I scholarships. They are both going to MU (Missouri). There isn't any reason to go there for exposure's sake. My understanding is that's why Stephen went in 2014. So certainly expense is a part of this. But we know most of the runners that go to these things pay their own way. Our school district would not pick up the expense for that kind of a meet. But that was not the most important part. The important part of the decision here, the decision for our district is, at what point do you put restrictions on high school athletes in order to keep them in school and part of the team? What are you trying to emphasize in high school athletics? The competition and the team. They get that right here in Missouri. We feel like it's important to go with that.
Do you think there will be any consideration with changing this policy in the future, or is this the foundation you will lean on in the future?
I think it will be the foundation for future decisions. But as you well know, there are a lot of things that come out in high school athletes that never occurred 10 or 15 years ago. We look at each case individually. It's like our band receiving an invitation to mark in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland. We took that under consideration and that decision was no.
We're not sending our band overseas. They can get plenty of competition here in the United States. I think everything we have individually, and as those opportunities for our student-athletes and our students and other activities come up, we will look at them with an open mind. Our foundation of our decision is what's best for our programs, both financially and in terms of what's best for the student-athlete when it comes to missing class time and participating with their teammate and other students.