By Ty Schadt, Staff Writer
Despite the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) moving the cross country national championship from North Carolina due to the state’s HB2 Law, Asbury’s team will still participate in the event come November.
According to the Charlotte Observer, the HB2 Law prevents transgender people from using government-run bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. Fearful of the discriminatory atmosphere this law could potentially create, many sports organizations have pulled events out of North Carolina. The NBA relocated the 2017 All-Star Game (originally in Charlotte) to New Orleans, and the NCAA removed multiple championship events, including the first and second rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Following this trend, the NAIA moved its cross country national championship from Charlotte to Elsah, Illinois. The decision came in late September and was surprising to many people, considering the tournament was less than two months away at the time.
When the news of the relocation hit, Asbury’s administration faced a tough decision: Is it better for their team to go to Illinois and compete, or take a stand against the NAIA’s decision and not compete?
By boycotting, Asbury would show its disagreement with the organization’s motive behind moving the event but also rob runners of their postseason. However, if they chose to let the team run, it would appear as though they accepted the NAIA’s reasoning.
Asbury President Dr. Sandra Gray met with the team and coaches in order to discuss the possible effects of both decisions. Cross country head coach Randy Crist said, “Dr. Gray showed my team great respect and consideration when she met with us to explain the issues and listen to our views as she was making her decision about our participation in the postseason. I have great appreciation for her sincere desire to balance the mission and testimony of Asbury with what is best for individual students.”
Director of Asbury’s Marketing and Communications Brad Johnson released a statement this week concerning his outlook on the situation: “The NAIA choosing to relocate the championships forced our coaches and student-athletes to address significant shifts in their schedules, and care for our student-athletes was and should remain the primary focus. I give President Gray tremendous credit for communicating with coaches and players before considering a final decision. Having played sports in college I can attest to how special postseason play is and how life-time memories are created in such moments.”
Dr. Gray showed my team great respect and consideration when she met with us to explain the issues and listen to our views as she was making her decision about our participation in the postseason.
Many athletes were anxious to hear Dr. Gray’s decision on the matter and worried what would come of their season if they were indeed forced to sit out the postseason.
“My initial reaction was feeling like my teammates and I might lose something that we have worked hard for,” said senior Kayla Sheeran.
The team started practicing over the summer in an effort to put themselves in the best position possible to qualify for nationals. Senior Caleb Mootispaw stated, “Though a decision had not been made, it felt as if we had already lost everything we trained for.”
Qualifiers for nationals consist of the first place team in the conference, as well as the top four individual runners not on the winning team. Senior Katy Falkenberg has run in nationals every year she has been at Asbury and was instantly “shell-shocked” at the possibility of a year without a postseason. Falkenberg overcame an injury earlier this season and feels she is a strong contender to win the conference race and make the cut for her final nationals. She described the contest as the “pinnacle of her entire running career.”
Thankfully for these student-athletes, the chance to compete in nationals is still present. After much consideration, Dr. Gray released a statement, assuring the team of their postseason plans: “The Lord has given me great peace and assurance this is an opportunity to carry the Light of Jesus in our hearts and spirit to Illinois for these championships.”
Johnson added that “the ‘Asbury family’ of students, faculty, staff and alums couldn’t be more proud of our amazing student-athletes, and we’ll all certainly be pulling and praying for them at this event.”
As expected, when the team found out they had a shot to qualify for nationals, it was quite a relief. “It was like everyone could breathe,” said Mootispaw. “It definitely motivated us to work harder than before. We learned that the things close to us could be taken as easily as they’re given, and I don’t think any of us will take our season for granted after this experience.”