According to a post on Twitter by the Georgia High School Association, West Forsyth High School runner John Green’s disqualification Nov. 7 in the Class AAAAAA championships had nothing to do with the Bible passage written on his headband.
That’s done little to convince Green’s friends and supporters, though, that he wasn’t wronged. Not since he’d worn the headband with “Isaiah 40:30-31” written on it in previous races with no objections. Not since two officials cleared him to wear the headband before a third saw things differently and, according to GHSA’s statement, ordered the headband to be removed due to the lettering.
Green, a member of Grace Chapel Church of Christ in Cumming, sports long hair that in the wet and muddy conditions made the removal of the headband a safety issue, his coach, Clayton Tillery, contended. Tillery also maintained other runners in the race wore headbands with Bible verses and other messages written on them, though Green was the only one disqualified.
Per the referee through the GHSA: “The coach said he could turn [the headband] inside-out and make it legal. He did so, and the writing was still very visible. The rule said the item had to be unadorned except for a logo, and this clearly was not the case.”
Further on, the referee noted that both Tillery and Green were visibly upset. When he observed Green finish wearing the headband turned inside-out but, according to the judgement of the official, still in violation he order a disqualification.
Headbands are not mentioned specifically in the GHSA Cross Country Coaches Handbook, but page 3, bullet 7 says headwear for cold weather must be of a single color and unadorned. The National Federation of State High Schools Rules Book gives the referee “sole authority for ruling on infractions or irregularities not covered within the rules.” It’s this ambiguity and subjectivity – juxtaposed with Green’s previous wearing of the headband and attempts to make it acceptable minutes before the start of his final high school race – that comes across to supporters as unjust.
Said sportswriter Michael Foster of the Forsyth County News, on hand to cover the event: “Green’s race was a display of strength, laboring through the thick mud to get to the finish. He showed tons of heart after falling to the ground afterward, lifting an arm up while lying, otherwise, face-first in the slushy grass so he could give high fives to other runners as they walked by. He showed tons of sportsmanship, electing to discuss other runners with me after the best finish of his life.”
Foster cited how in last year’s state finals Green wore the headband with no issues from officials.
Green, who had the previous week become the Region 6-6A Boys Cross Country Champion, was also one of 42 local high school runners named to the Atlanta Track Club’s All-Metro Cross Country Team. Officially, according to the GHSA, he finished the final race of his high school career 226 out of as many runners. His bio at the ATC site recognizes his third place finish with an asterisk and “DQ” in parenthesis, as well as a picture of him wearing a white headband with “Isaiah 40:30-31” in black lettering, facing outward.