Tuesday, June 07, 2005 | Sometimes we hear the National Football League referred to as the No Fun League. It’s usually some wise-guy sports pundit commenting on NFL rules that prohibit excessive celebrations from players or the athletes adding a personal touch to their uniform.
It’s a nice gag line, but what they fail to recognize is the trickle-down effect of such behavior from pro athletes. Willie Buchanon, the former Chargers and Green Bay Packers cornerback from San Diego State and Oceanside High, sees the trickle-down effect from beginning to end.
On Sunday afternoons in the fall at Qualcomm Stadium, Buchanon works as a member of the NFL’s uniform police. His job is to hand out fines to NFL players who violate the league’s uniform policy.
On Thursday and Saturday afternoons in the spring at high school track meets, he enforces similar CIF San Diego Section rules in his role as track coach at his alma mater, Oceanside High.
“The guys don’t like it when they have to take off their jewelry, but those are the rules,” said Buchanon, who was talking about his high school athletes but could just as easily have been referring to NFL players.
The NFL, the most visible sports league of our time, spends money to enforce uniform rules, partly because the league understands the influence of television.
“The kids in high school, and even college, want to emulate what they see in the pros,” Buchanon said. “The pro athletes have to understand kids will copy what they see them doing on TV.”
Don’t expect Randy Moss to ever figure that out, which is why he continues to pay fines for embarrassing behavior. The wallet is the only way to get across the message to the pro athlete.
But for the high school athlete that copies what he or she sees on television, the only recourse is to penalize them on the field of play. Sometimes, such as in track and field, that means disqualifying the athlete. That may seem excessively harsh and heartless at times, but it’s not a rule applied cavalierly by high school sports governing bodies.
Maybe you heard about the San Diego high school track athlete who was disqualified from advancing to the state track and field meet last weekend in Sacramento. Torrey Pines High freshman Skylar Middlebrook’s crime was wearing earrings at the CIF San Diego Section championships the previous weekend.
“She had been warned before the race, but she still wore the earrings anyway,” said CIF San Diego Section commissioner Dennis Ackerman. “It’s a National Federation rule.”
Excessive jewelry swinging about on a hurdler as he or she bounds down the track can be a safety hazard for obvious reasons, but high school officials don’t have the resources, or the time, to interpret whether a big earring violates the rule and a small earring doesn’t.
One rule, as heartless as it might seem, has to fit all. The alternative is to watch high school sports events degenerate into a recreation league. Or even worse, looking like something that reflects the defunct XFL.
There has been a recent spate of newspaper stories across the state regarding disqualifications similar to Middlebrook’s in track and other sports, but the rules and their harsh penalties are nothing new in high school sports.
The Middlebrook case reminded me of the Morse High senior girl who wore an old singlet, for sentimental reasons, instead of the new singlet her teammates wore as they won the 1,600 relay in her final race on a San Diego track. The foursome was disqualified from advancing to the state meet.
That was four years ago. The athlete was Monique Henderson, then the national high school record holder in the 400 meters and a now a UCLA senior and gold medalist in the 1,600 relay in the 2004 Olympics.
Henderson’s case wasn’t much different from the Morse High boy at the state meet who wore compression shorts with a visible CalHiSports logo under his track shorts. That was 14 years ago. Gary Taylor, then one of the state’s best triple jumpers who went on to play football at Arizona, was disqualified.
San Diego’s CIF postseason events have never been run more efficiently than now. One reason is Ackerman began the practicing of enlisting the help of retired coaches to handle many of the important supervisor roles.
Here’s a rule change that should be considered, though. Before any parent or athlete complains about the harshness of a high school rule, they should first have to help run a high school event before they’re eligible to protest. Then they’ll understand the need for one-size-fits-all rules.
Call Dennis Ackerman. He always needs volunteers.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). His features on high school athletes and coaches can be seen on the cable television show “School and Sports Stars” on the San Diego County Office of Education’s ITV Channel.