COLUMBIA – Reeds Spring High School sophomore Paige Rantz came into the Class 3 state track and field championships on Saturday with high hopes.
She finished third in the pole vault as a freshman and had a legitimate chance at an even higher finish this time around.
Rantz shook off a couple of misses at 11 feet, then cleared the bar on her third try to remain one of four vaulters remaining.
While waiting for others to finish their tries at that height, a call came out from the coaches box at Walton Stadium on the University of Missouri campus.
“Rantz is on a cell phone. No electronics allowed, right?” said a coach of one of the remaining vaulters, in the direction of the officials running the pole vault event.
After the initial call, and the officials seeing what he said, the coach tried to back it down and said he didn’t want to cause any trouble, but just wanted them to know about it.
The damage was done. Things quickly spiraled out of control after that, with meet officials brought in and consulted.
Rantz and her coaches said she was on speaker phone with her personal pole vault coach, who was expected to be at state meet but couldn’t attend. The coach was telling Rantz to remain calm and not get swept up in emotions if she has trouble clearing a certain height.
The problem was that Rantz was inside the fence while taking the call. The result was a disqualification.
Rantz had already cleared 11 feet, which would have left her, at worst, in a tie for fourth place with Mt. Vernon’s Sadie Heisner. The winning effort was 11 feet, 9 inches, from Pembroke Hill’s Hadley Jetmore.
Was the decision, by the pure letter of the rule, the correct one? Probably. The pre-event meeting with the competitors included a simple message: No electronics inside the fence.
But did that decision go along with the spirit of the rules? No way. It was a bad look for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, the other coach involved, and it robbed Rantz of what should have been another trip to the podium.
It gifted that coach’s individual to a medal higher than what she should have earned. Terrible message to send to all involved.
To start with, to have an opposing coach concentrating on the mostly innocent actions of one of his athlete’s competitors, instead of getting his vaulter prepared and ready to compete on the state’s highest stage, is silly.
It sends a clear message to that coach’s athlete that he wanted a talented competitor like Rantz taken out of contention by a very innocuous interpretation of a rule that should have been open to at least a little leeway.
It seems the biggest sin committed by Rantz was that she was inside the fence, not that electronics were used. She wasn’t watching video of past jumps or getting technical advice from her coach.
The truly objectionable part of the episode had to do with the coach who blew the whistle on Rantz.
As his vaulter was moving up through the competition, he had an iPad on a tripod and filmed each of her jumps from the coaches box. After each try, she went over to him and watched her form and got coaching while watching the video.
That was not against the rules, because the iPad was set up outside the fence, even though the vaulter was inside.
Which situation is a more flagrant violation of the spirit of the “no electronics” rule – to be inside the fence and watch video of your previous vaults, or to be on a speaker phone to get a calming message from a coach?
It’s an easy call for me, and it’s a sad episode for the MSHSAA and particularly the coach in question.
You have to give credit to Rantz and Reeds Spring coach Craig Barr, who were able to put aside the initial emotions and disappointment of it all to get prepared for the 4x100 and 4x200 relays, where both teams finished in the top eight.
Afterward, the emotions were still fresh.
“I was really upset, I didn’t think it was fair,” Rantz said. “They went off someone and took his word over mine, so that kind of sucks.
“But it’s OK, I have two years left, and I don’t want to say I’ll rub it in their faces, but I can come back stronger next year.”
Having seen the competitive nature of Rantz over the last two years, I’m convinced it will take more than an opposing coach keeping an eagle eye on the competition to keep her off the podium again.
Jim Connell is the sports editor of the Branson Tri-Lakes News. Contact him at
email@example.com, or engage on Twitter at @Jim_Connell_417