Here's a story about what happened in the final moments of a team's 4x800 relay in Michigan.
And perhaps it's not so much a question about whether it should have been a DQ. Maybe it's deeper than that, beyond what rules say and just what track and field dictates. At what point does heart get rewarded?
A year ago, the Flint Powers Catholic boys finished 11th in the 4x800 at the Michigan High School Athletic Association Lower Peninsula Division 2 Championships.
No medals. No school records. Just a solid performance in 8 minutes, 3.38 seconds between four athletes who were all coming back the next year. In truth, that's why the team felt optimistic.
The team's second leg, Myles Hall, had been in the hospital over spring break that same year, somehow landing there after running in a meet just a few days earlier. He lost 13 pounds over that span, but still somehow managed to find his way back to the track, running a split of 2:01.
And to his teammates? That meant everything. The 4x800 was for the team, and here was Hall, a 200 or 400 meter guy, gutting out two laps.
"That was a sign of hope for us," one teammate said.
The team had this idea, that 2018 was the year. State championship or bust.
While Spidle was an improving miler, someone who hoped to drop under 4:50 in 2018, it had taken some persuading to get him to the track. He was an all-state wrestler, too, and there was nothing more that he liked than getting on the mat and getting after it.
But then he started churning out mileage in the summer. Something came over him. He really started to enjoy it, teammates said, and that pushed him to get the most out of himself.
Then there was Hamilton, the young one of the group. He was just a junior, though he had perhaps the most potential, having run 1:58.99 in the 800m at the indoor state championships in February. Maybe this was his year to run anchor? Maybe it was the start of a school record in the 800.
And then there was Lorf, who was more of a two-miler. Like Hall, he had his own internal drive and was motivated to succeed at his particular distance. He had finished seventh at state in the 3200m as a junior in 9:33.55 and knew he had to put that much more to improve.
But like Hall, he also knew the 4x800 represented something more.
For all the individual accomplishments that each member of the team wanted for themselves, the relay was their time to shine as a team.
When Hamilton hurt his knee earlier in the season? It jeopardized their hopes again. They thought it was a torn meniscus. The junior took a few weeks off, then came back.
Hamilton ran at a dual meet and dropped out of the mile. Was he done? Yes ... and then no.
The team was back in the nick of time.
From April, when the team had posted a time of 8:32.26, to early May, when they chipped it down to 8:09.67, the squad knew it had something special. At the end of the month, the team was ridiculously close to breaking 8 minutes, scoring a win in 8:01.26 at the Saginaw Valley Association Championships.
They were one of the top ranked teams entering the MHSAA LP-Division 2 Championships on June 2 in Zeeland, perhaps just behind Chelsea, which had finished third in 2017 and had most of their guys back, too.
"Things were picking up steam," a teammate said. "We felt really good."
And then the relay came.
Lorf had the split of his life. After 300 meters, he was out early and in the lead, taking the inside. He came through 400 meters in about 57 seconds and then closed hard, running the fastest split of his career in 1:56.
Here comes Hall. In no time, the senior picks up where his teammate leaves off, racing out with so much confidence, never looking back. He's through in 60 and then you can see it ...he's fighting the legs, the booty lock. The 400 meter guy is holding on.
In the final stretches he can probably hear the guy behind him--maybe just 10 meters--but he never gives up the lead, finishes in about 1:59.
Spidle takes the stick and rushes back out to maintain control. His legs are motoring along, trying to keep this sub-8 attempt in the picture. He does nicely through 400 and by 600 meters he can sense the guy behind him losing hope.
That final 100 meters? Probably feels like the biggest rush ever. He storms home like never before, rockets that arm out and lets the baton go. 5:58 is on the clock.
And now it's all up to Hamilton. Can he do it?
The most experienced of the bunch, that first 100 is as smooth as the five lakes.
He looks tremendous through 200, then 300, then 400. He's through the first lap in 6:56, a cool 58 second split.
So he starts picking it up with 300 meters to go. Feeling good. Hits the final turn. Legs feel a little shaky, but he's going to finish.
Now it's 100, and the Chelsea guy is coming out of nowhere. He's got all of it left, while Hamilton--he didn't plan for this--now his legs aren't working.
Fifty meters to go. He looks behind him. Yellow jersey. All I need to do is finish, he says to himself. He can see the line. It's so close.
He lets his arms go. Then he stutters. He trips on his feet and starts leaning to the side. Now he's veering off to the left, he's almost off the track. He falls head first into the grass but crosses the finish. In the grass.
He finished the race in the grass, never came across the finish. He's laying there, and his teammates don't know what to do.
They have just lost state. They're in shock. Hamilton feels like he's dying. But he crossed the finish, right?
No one says anything to them, so the team--heads down--walk up to the stands. They wait for the podium announcement. But when it comes, their name isn't called.
"What happened," one of the runners remembers saying.
Their coach tells them they've been DQ'ed. Hamilton didn't finish on the track. The team furiously looks up the rules. There isn't a rule that says it has to be on the track, they find, just that you need to finish across the line.
The team appeals the rule, to no avail. The referee who ruled on the matter says he doesn't want to hear it anymore. It's over.
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Division 2 4x800 Results
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The team goes home, then appeals it again a few days later. The MHSAA hears the team out, but again ... you can't appeal a judgement call.
A week goes by. The team still has that sunken feeling. Sure, they lost the state championship. Worse? The race doesn't even count.
They would have finished in 7:57, a season best. A school record.
Lorf followed with his second-straight top eight finish at state in the 3200m, crossing the line in fifth in a career bet 9:19.19. Hamilton finished the year with a mile PR of 4:46.06, while Hall split a career best of 51 seconds in the 400m. Hamilton still has another year of track, but after the 4x800 he was crushed. You could see it in his open 800m, when he couldn't muster up his typical kick and failed to get out of the rounds in 2:05.06.
While the team has moved on, they haven't forgotten. Some part of them still wants to be recognized for that race.
One teammate talked to his coach and was told that the MHSAA had sent the tape to the National Federation of High School Associations. The governing body is going to use the tape of Flint Powers Catholic finishing in the grass as an example.
Maybe the judgement shouldn't have been a DQ after all.
The teammate thinks about instant replay at the line of a state championship. Smart idea? Yeah, he says, but maybe in just the biggest meets. He'd like for teams who put that much hard work into one race get the reward and recognition they deserve.
State championship win or not.
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Cory Mull is a national producer and writer for MileSplit. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at him @bycorymull