Victor Mugeche and Tori Findley – The Examiner’s reigning boys and girls Cross Country Runners of the Year who are also two of the premier track and field distance performers in the country – will not be competing in the national championship Arcadia Invitational meet in Arcadia, Calif., this Saturday.
And that is creating a social media backlash for the Blue Springs School District.
District activities director Mark Bubalo said the district is concerned about the individual students and what is best for them when it came to making the decision.
“This was really a very difficult administrative decision at the district level, and everyone involved in this has a coaching background. We understand the opportunity and difficulty this event presents to us as a district administrative staff,” Bubalo said Wednesday afternoon. “In February, when we made the decision, there were many factors to consider – cost, missing class time, and maybe I’m old-fashioned, but we believe it’s more important to compete with your teammates. We don’t think we need to send athletes to California to compete when their teammates are back here competing in Missouri.”
Mugeche, a senior at Blue Springs High School who has signed to run cross country and track at the University of Missouri, recently ran the eighth-fastest 2-mile time in the country over the indoor season – 9 minutes, 8.03 seconds, according to Mo.MileSplit.com.
Findley, a senior at Blue Springs South High School who has also signed with Missouri, ran the 27th-fastest 3,200 meters over the indoor season with a time of 10:49.33. Both were hoping to compete in the 3,200 at the Arcadia Invitational.
“Sure, I’m disappointed because I would like to represent my high school and my community against the best athletes in the country,” said Mugeche, who finished in first place and led his team to the Class 4 cross country state championship last fall. “But there is nothing I can change, so I am going to focus all my energy into my high school season and do my best to help our (track) team win (a second consecutive) state championship.”
Findley echoed Mugeche’s comments.
“I obviously agree with Victor,” said Findley, who also took first at the Class 4 Missouri State High School Cross Country Championships. “Am I disappointed? Yes, but we’re both going to be so positive and help our teams have great seasons. We’ll focus all our attention on our teams.”
Added Bubalo: “You know, it’s not surprising how mature those statements are, coming from two amazing high school seniors. I know they are disappointed, but I truly believe they understand the decision very well and have moved on to focus their energy on their teams and teammates – certainly values we hope to teach in high school athletics.”
The Missouri State High School Activities Association by-laws restrict high school athletes from competing in national meets during the high school season without district approval.
“This is an administrative decision for the Blue Springs School District,” Bubalo said. “At some point there have to be some guidelines – in this case restrictions – on how far you let students travel to represent your schools. Tori and Victor are great representatives of the Blue Springs School District. I watched Tori grow up two yards over from my home most of her life, and I don’t know Victor quite as well, but I know what outstanding kids they are. And we hated to tell them they could not travel to the Arcadia meet, but we just can’t justify sending kids across the country to compete in a national invitational when they can compete right here in their own state.
“Like I have said before, we’re doing what we think is best for our students, all of them, from an educational perspective. We have to try to carefully balance athletic opportunities as just a part of the educational process and experience. That gets tougher and tougher to do in light of the new culture of emphasis on national high school events.”
The most recent decision is part of a changing and developing academic landscape, Bubalo said.
“We have opportunities for our high school students that you could never imagine thinking about 10 years ago,” Bubalo added, “and we are going to continue looking at each case individually. But the final decision is going to come down to this – is it best educationally for our students, not just two of them, but all students in our district who might have similar opportunities? As one of the leading school districts in the state – and the Midwest – we have elite national caliber talent in a multitude of athletic and academic areas. We don’t believe we can send them to every national event that is offered to them, but we make sure the opportunities we do provide them are the very best for them educationally.”