Track Winner's Gesture Is A Mark Of True Sportsmanship

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Often in prep sports, we witness acts of genuine good sportsmanship that remind us what athletic competition is all about.

Such was the case last week on the victory stand at the state championship track and field meet in Chandler.

Just seconds after being announced as the 3,200-meter gold medalist, Chino Valley's Jodie Denike reached down to runner-up Whitney Hardt and pulled her up to the first-place stand.

Somewhat reluctantly, Whitney moved to the top step alongside Denike.

Only minutes earlier, Whitney and Jodie were involved in a heated 3,200-meter race that both desperately wanted to win. The race finish was so close a photograph was need to separate first and second place.

In prep sports there can be only one gold-medal winner, but Jodie's unselfish act of pulling her year-long rival to the number-one perch makes her a winner in the game of life.

The words exchanged between Whitney and Jodie on the victory stand will remain private between the two. But we do know that Jodie offered to give the gold medal to Whitney.

Of course, Whitney refused, saying the medal belonged to the Chino Valley star.

Because the two have competed in so many close races throughout the cross country and track seasons, a tinge of bitterness could have existed.

But both left their competitiveness on the track where it belonged.

When they met head to head, the two battled like the gallant warriors they are. But when the competition was over, both departed the athletic arena with a mutual respect for one another.

Next season, prep sports fans won't have the privilege of seeing the two compete against one another.

As a senior, Jodie is bound for Northern Arizona University where she will continue her track and field career.

Only a freshman, Whitney has three more years of high school eligibility remaining.

How did this happen?

Coaches and athletes are still shaking their collective noggins, wondering how state track and field officials could have made such a crucial mistake as allowing the girls 3,200-meter run to have ended after the seventh rather than eighth lap.

Former track coaches association president and PHS coach Dan Reid says mistakes like that shouldn't occur in crucial state showdowns.

No one knows why the final gun was shot one lap prematurely, but most speculate it was simply inattention on the part of officials. Coach Chuck Hardt vehemently protested the miscue, but the pleas fell on deaf ears.

In fact, some spectators say Hardt wasn't treated with the respect a dedicated high school coach of his stature is due.

Others in attendance said there were other instances in which the meet could have been conducted more professionally.

Because only seven laps were completed in the 3,200, no official times were recorded. Both Jodie Denike of Chino Valley and Whitney Hardt of Payson, the first- and second-place finishers were on target to possibly run 11-minute races, which would have earned them a spot among the nation's elite.

Another youngster adversely affected by the blunder was Monument Valley's Rebecca Wiseman. Expected to be a gold-medal threat in the event, Wiseman eventually finished third.

Onlookers say Wiseman never turned on her finishing kick because she obviously knew the runners were on the seventh rather than the final lap.

Because she is a senior, Wiseman's opportunities to win a state gold medal are at an end.

Sure, mistakes happen, but it's close to inexcusable when errors like the one that occurred in Chandler cost young athletes the chance to live their dreams.

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