Raleigh Charter senior Timmy O’Neill spent most of this week thinking he wasn’t going to be able to run in Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A Mideast regional at Trask High in Rocky Point, N.C.
The story behind it all may help other track and field coaches in the future. First-year Raleigh Charter coach Meredith Alexander learned it all the hard way.
After O’Neill was added back, four Phoenix athletes are regional bound. Eight others are not, however, because of the same errors that nearly kept O’Neill out.
The first part of what went wrong was the misleading error message Alexander got while entering qualifiers through the MileSplit.com system.
O’Neill and three others had met automatic qualifying marks during the year, but coaches enter athletes through MileSplit.com anyway, especially because some athletes may qualify in excess of four events, and a coach must decide which four events he or she will compete in.
Also, sometimes there are not enough regional qualifiers to fill all the lanes, so it’s important for coaches to enter the top times for several athletes in hopes they too might get a regional spot. It’s like flying standby. You wait to see how many seats – or in this case, lanes – are open.
Alexander said that while entering many of her athletes’ times into MileSplit, it showed her an error message – “qualifying time not found.”
“I took the message that said qualifying time not found as the qualifying time that is for regionals which was a correct statement,” Alexander said. “I took that as I could not enter the non-qualifiers myself.”
Instead, it is supposed to show up when no time is listed for that person under that specific event. Alexander said other coaches have told her the glitch has happened to them when they were in their first year.
“I didn’t think anything else of it, I thought I would see the final list and see who made it onto the official list,” Alexander said. “The only option I had was to exit out of that message ... I just kind of left it alone and thought somebody was going to seed them themselves.”
It did not come up for the four athletes who had qualifying times, including O’Neill.
But Alexander said O’Neill’s name was later left off somehow, which appeared to leave the senior with a bitter end to his career.
This clerical error is why he can run on Saturday – he had a qualifying time and it was in the system though there was a glitch at first. There is a distinction made between his case – a qualifying time that somehow got lost in the system or was left off as an oversight – and the others who had not ran a qualifying time and thus had not secured a rightful automatic berth.
But perhaps those athletes would’ve made it to regionals if Alexander had received the email she was supposed to have over the weekend or early Monday.
According to NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker, regional directors – which are NCHSAA coaches from various host schools – send out emails with a list of all regional qualifiers in addition to the athletes who are just outside the cutoff.
But because Alexander and her assistant coach did not receive the regional director’s email, she did not see the official list until it was posted on the NCHSAA website late Tuesday.
If she had gotten it, she would have known that she had until 3 p.m. Monday to call the NCHSAA to rectify it.
Late entries are $50 each “unless we could determine that there was a clerical error on the part of the regional director or a situation where the coach submitted it but then there was a glitch with Milesplit, then we were able to adjust those on Tuesday,” said Tucker, who said she was not contacted by the school until Friday.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s not a fixable matter just based on our rules and regulations and that we’ve made similar rulings, not only in track, but other sports where there are entry deadlines.”
Tucker said she was not made aware of the situation until Friday, while Alexander said her athletic director had called the NCHSAA on Thursday, and both of statements can be true at the same time. Tucker may not have been the official to handle the first call on Thursday.
But in either case it was too late for the NCHSAA to change it for anything other than a clerical error of someone who had met one of the qualifying times and whose time was logged in MileSplit as is required.
The Monday deadline itself wasn’t around years ago.
The NCHSAA has added late deadlines only in the last few years to avoid these situations, and has previously only added athletes as late as Wednesday.
“We want everyone who is supposed to be running to run, so we do anything we can,” Tucker said.
It doesn’t make it easier for the Raleigh Charter athletes who could’ve been running in regionals, but there are some lessons others can glean from this.
The first is the importance of logging every qualifying time into MileSplit.
Tucker said that in some prior cases, a coach would say their athlete had qualified for the regional meet, but the NCHSAA could not verify it without that correct documentation. Because O’Neill’s time was logged in, it was eventually found and he was placed back into the field.
The next is to call the NCHSAA as soon as possible if there is a glitch like the one Alexander experienced. It happens enough to where the NCHSAA can work with coaches who are experiencing that kind of trouble. If notified early enough, they can make sure the athletes get their opportunities. This case was just too late for everyone else to be added aside from O’Neill.
And lastly – particularly with regional formats changing next year, going to geography rather than conference affiliation – is to make sure to get the email from the regional director’s list of performance times. This whole situation may have been avoided if not for that.
Alexander’s athletes who were left out, for the most part, are underclassmen who will have their shot next year.
“They’re good kids and they took it well, they’re very mature for their age,” Alexander said. “It just kind of broke my heart because I know their work ethic and how much work they put in.”