Cross Country: NFHS battles jewelry with strict regulations

October 6, 2009 — by David Eng

When the National Federation of State High School Associations' (NFHS) released this year's state cross country meet policies and procedures, many runners across the nation felt confused. This is because the recently enacted set of rules restricts the wearing of jewelry or headbands by any contestant at any meet.

Many contestants believe this rule was introduced to prevent unsportsman-like ploys, such as earring stabbings, during a race. However, this explanation seems quite unrealistic. As senior cross-country runner Molly Jordan puts it, "I can't imagine ever getting stabbed by the back of an earring." There must be another reason.

Interestingly enough, it is not the act of banning jewelry per se that seems to be the problem. Instead, it is the NFHS's definition of what constitutes jewelry that leaves the most runners wondering. "LiveSTRONG" yellow wristbands, any headwear (with some exceptions) and even hairbands worn on wrists are now classified as jewelry, along with the usual suspects like earrings or necklaces.

Athletic director Peter Jordan can offer an explanation to this seemingly outrageous rule, though. He points out that the rule was established to protect the safety of the athletes, reasoning a weird hair clip could significantly harm a girl if she were to fall.

"Because of this falling scenario, the NFHS says 'No weird hairclips,'" said P.Jordan. "But then, it's hard to know where to draw the line, so they say, 'No jewelry, period.'"

Nevertheless, the policy restricting "LiveSTRONG" yellow wristbands and other obviously unharmful articles of clothing still seems somewhat overbearing.

"I understand it's kind of ridiculous because obviously wearing a hair band or a LiveSTRONG wristband around your wrist isn't going to hurt you," said Mr. Jordan, "but the thing is if [the NFHS] lets you do that, then they kind of have to let you do everything."

The consequences of not conforming to policy can be dire. Most meets during the regular season are utilized as training opportunities, so accidentally wearing jewelry is not as serious. Officials will simply tell the contestant to take it off. At CCS or state meets, however, the contestant wearing jewelry will face possible disqualification.

There are several ironic discrepancies in this plan to stop jewelry, though. While competitors cannot decorate themselves with wristbands, they are permitted to wear possibly even more harmful sports watches or eye glasses for correcting vision.

These discrepancies are compounded by the fact that professional runners often sprint across finish lines flashing adorning "jewelry." What was Usain Bolt wearing when he celebrated pompously after his 100m race in Beijing? A yellow-orange wristband on his right wrist, which hardly matches the green and yellow colors of Jamaica. U.S. medalist Angelo Taylor was also wearing wristbands when he won the 400m hurdles in Beijing.

As of now, determining whether the NFHS's decision to ban wristbands and other unharmful "jewelry" is fruitful or fruitless has yet to be seen.

As Mr. Jordan said, "You have to make it zero-tolerance. After all, if you have a rule, teenagers are always going to find a way around it. It's that simple."

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