Milnor-Wyndmere-Lidgerwood track coach Rae Hosford couldn't face junior Evan Braaten. She couldn't stop crying. She could not think of any way to inform Braaten he had been disqualified from the finals in four events of last month's North Dakota Class B state track and field meet.
Braaten had 16 family members in the crowd in Bismarck three weeks ago. His family had come from Moorhead, Fargo, Minneapolis, Jamestown and one aunt came from Colorado to see him compete. He had top-five finishes in the preliminaries for the four events, one of which he finished second the previous season.
"His mouth just dropped and he said, 'Am I disqualified from everything?'" Hosford said. "That's when we instantly started crying. It should not be his fault. It should be our fault. I felt like the whole season had been blown up and thrown in the trash. He and I embraced and hugged for five minutes and cried."
Garrison-Max junior Ilise Jennings had to miss the state meet as a sophomore because she was a transfer. She got her chance as a junior this season, but she also found out the day of finals she was disqualified from all four events.
"It was terrible," G-M coach Justin Folk said. "Just to see the utter destruction they felt at that moment. She had done nothing wrong. We thought we had done nothing wrong because we followed an official's advice. I was trying to hold it together."
The final chance coaches can scratch an athlete from a state event is the Tuesday before the state meet begins. If athletes aren't scratched, then they will be in an event-regardless of whether or not they compete. This matters because National Federation of State High School Associations has restrictions on the amount of events an individual can participate in and how many relays they are allowed to do.
"It's hard to see your coach like that," Braaten said. "(Hosford) coached me in junior high. It was super hard for her. She knows how much I love track. It's hard to see everything come to an end like that."
M-W-L sophomore and its fastest runner, Bryar Erickson, had tendonitis in his knee and was hurt during the 800-meter relay in preliminaries at the state meet. M-W-L needed someone to run for him in the 400-meter relay and their choices were Braaten or a thrower. Braaten was already in four events, so he chose to scratch from the high jump. He told the official and he was out of the high jump.
"If there's an injury, us Class B schools don't have 10 other guys or girls to pick from," Hosford said. "What do you do with this relay if someone is sick or hurt? There's something with the rules that need to change. That state meet should be for the kids and to disqualify someone for all events doesn't seem right. There's something wrong there."
Folk is a first-year coach. Jennings qualified for state in the 100 and 200-meter dashes, the 400 and 800-meter relays and the long jump. An athlete can only participate in four events at the state meet. Folk realized he forgot to scratch Jennings from an event at the Tuesday meeting. He went to the state meet early and was told to talk to official David Bass. Folk was told to have Jennings run the first four events and don't do the long jump, which was on Day 2 of the meet.
"The situation with Garrison was unfortunate and I would agree it was a miscommunication," Bass said. "Based on what I was told about entries for the student-athlete, I responded with an explanation of the regulations for those events since they had not declared their entries earlier in the week as required by the state regs."
When Saturday rolled around, Jennings and Braaten were disqualified for being in five events.
"I was hurt really bad and really sad and mad and thought it was ridiculous and outrageous," Jennings said.
There was no finals for Jennings or Braaten. Their preliminary times were erased from final results and the relays they were in were also disqualified. The coaches hope there's a lesson in all this.
"I don't want his to ever happen to anybody ever again," Hosford said. "The way I felt, the way Evan felt, the way Evan's parents felt. We don't want it to ever happen again to anybody."
Jennings said she's learned from the experience. At the same time she's not sure she'll do track and field next season because of it.
"When you're trying to be successful at what you want you're going to have some bumpy roads and you're not always going to have a rainbow," Jennings said.
Braaten's family offered him a ride home immediately after finding out he was disqualified. He stayed to support his team. He also forced himself to watch his events and see the empty lane where he was supposed to be. He plans to be there next season.
"That wrecked me," Braaten said. "But those were two days in my life and it's not going to ruin my life. On the actual day it's terrible. It's hard on the day, but it's just a small part of your life. You can always get through everything."