LIVESTRONG band decision provoked furor
Ten Virginia high school cross country runners disqualified for wearing Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG wristbands during a meet last week have had their results reinstated.
In all, 26 runners had been disqualified for violating a district ban on wearing jewelry while competing in an Oct. 6 cross country meet in Virginia Beach, Va., but Bruce Biehl, Kellam High School's principal and Beach District chairman, ruled Tuesday that the runners had not been properly warned the ban included the bright yellow bands.
"Under a strict interpretation, it was a violation of the rule, but it was a gray area," Biehl told ESPN.com. "Ultimately, we erred in not clarifying the rule to them before the race."
The disqualifications of the remaining 16 runners who violated the ban will stand, including a female runner who won her race while wearing a "hair scrunchy" around her wrist, Biehl said. Official results of the meet will be recalculated after each team's coach has been informed which runners had been reinstated.
More than 12 million LIVESTRONG bands have been sold by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which funnels all proceeds to cancer research. In recent months, the distinctive bands have been seen on Olympic athletes and presidential candidates. But they will not be allowed on the arms of Beach District cross country runners in the future, Biehl said.
Beach District officials had issued two written warnings to each team, once before the season and again before last week's meet, and runners were reminded of the rule before the race. But in the future, Biehl said, competitors will be told that the bands would subject them to disqualification.
"The big reason we reviewed this is that regional and state meets are coming up, and I didn't want runners affected by what happened on the district level because they didn't know the bands violated the rules," he said.
Biehl also acknowledged that media attention had influenced the decision. On Tuesday, he released a statement to that effect.
"I have learned a valuable lesson from the perspective of 20/20 hindsight," Biehl wrote. "Gray areas will often surface when competition and kids are involved. Those of us who wear the title 'official' need to work all the harder to strike the right balance between flexibility and commitment to long-standing rules."
In a coincidence, Ocean Lakes High coach Mike Nestor had planned before the controversy unfolded to award a LIVESTRONG band to his team's "Athlete of the Meet."
"Our kids certainly weren't wearing them to be defiant. We're kind of in awe of everything that's happened," Nestor told the Virginian-Pilot.
"Sometimes you wear the band but forget what it's really for," he added. "I've received e-mails from all over the country from cancer survivors voicing their support. Through their stories, we've learned what an inspiration that band really is."
Kevin Ball is a senior editor with ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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