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Saturday, June 17, 2017: Corning's Lawson win's 5,000 at outdoor nationals

   Leading off today: Corning senior Jessica Lawson won the girls 5,000 meters Friday at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.

   Lawson finished in 16:38.54 for a personal best and the state senior-class record. Lawson took third in the event last year in 16:52.60.

   Runner-up Amanda Vestri of Webster Thomas finished in 17:05.49. In the process, she erased the last of the Section 5 outdoor records set by Stacy Prey in the mid-1980s. Prey, the Brighton great who went on to a career at Penn State, had run 17:10.8 in 1983.

   "I would have liked to finish under 17 (minutes), but hey, it's hot down her for a New Yorker," Vestri, who ran 17:21 indoors for a sectional record, told the Democrat and Chronicle.

   Lawson's weekend is hardly over. She's entered in Saturday's two-mile run and Sunday's four-mile relay. She won the 3,000 meters state title in a season-best 9:25.68 last weekend and also took second in the 1,500, setting a Section 4 record in 4:22.38.

    • New Yorkers took second place in the boys and girls racewalks.

   Junior Audrey Fox of New Rochelle led a parade of seven New York girls in the top 10 with a time of 15:04.99 for 3,000 meters. In the boys race, Nanuet senior Brian Baccaglini covered his debut at that distance in 14:59.93.

   Off to prep school: Cheektowaga senior basketball standout Dominic Welch said on Twitter that he will attend Spire Institute Prep School in Geneva, Ohio, next fall.

   Welch was first-team all-state last season after averaging 30.4 points a game as a senior and setting the Section 6 career mark for points.

   Going it alone: Mekeel Christian Academy will leave Section 2's the Western Athletic Conference in boys basketball to play an independent schedule the next two seasons.

   "I believe in our players, our coaches and the system we have in place," Mekeel coach and Headmaster Chad Bowman told The Daily Gazette. "I believe the kids are ready to step out and test themselves."

   Mekeel, which plays in Class B, won its 14th straight WAC division title and sixth consecutive overall championship last season during a 22-1 record.

   Having won a string of five league games by an average of 46 points a game last winter, Bowman wants the independent schedule as a way to beef up regular-season competition ahead of sectionals. Opponents next season will include Albany Academy, Saratoga, Manhattan power Collegiate and Bronx power Fieldston.

   "We know what we have to do in the gym to get better," Bowman said. "This is another way to get better for postseason play. Where we are now, with the work rate of the kids, the kids want to push themselves and play the best teams in the area. This allows us to do that."

   Mekeel will remain a member of the NYSPHSAA.

   "We love the NYSPHSAA and the excellent competition it provides," Bowman said. "We're proud to be a part of it. The ultimate goal is a NYSPHSAA championship."

   Regents OK change: Executive directors of the NYSPHSAA's 11 sections have a previously scheduled teleconference set for Monday, and now they have some fresh fodder to discuss courtesy of the State Board of Regents.

   Meeting this week, the Regents approved two initiatives of State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that have raised concerns from some athletic administrators and superintendents.

   By far, the bigger of the two items has to do with the "duration of competition" rule, which has come to be understood as the four-year eligibility clock that begins with the start of ninth grade.

   Meeting in March, the Regents tabled a vote on Elia's proposed new wording in the face of concerns raised during the public comment period. However, there was no such delay this time and the changes will take effect next month. The short story:

   Elia's original proposal restored the phrase "other circumstances beyond the student's control" to the list of reasons that a student under the age of 19 at the start of the school year could be allowed an additional season of eligibility in their sport beyond the normal four years beginning with ninth grade.

   That provision existed until 2014 but for a long time it was more or less understood that "other circumstances beyond the student's control" still had to relate at least marginally to illness or injury and involved substantial


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  • absences from the classroom that would have knocked the athlete off track for on-time graduation. Over the years, appeals chipped away at that interpretation to the point where anarchy was on the horizon, and the NYSPHSAA successfully moved to strike "other circumstances beyond the student's control" from the rule.

       Restoring the provision would have placed initial, complicated decisions on appeals into the hands of the superintendent of the district in question. It would have been entirely possible for superintendents in neighboring districts to rule differently on essentially identical appeals having nothing to do with illness or injury -- which were the only generally accepted exceptions to the duration of competition rule.

       The pushback on Elia's proposed change resulted in new wording, hence the Regents' delay. The key clause in the proposal was re-written as:

       "If sufficient evidence is presented by the chief school officer to the section to show that the pupil's failure to enter competition during one or more seasons of a sport was caused by illness, (or) accident, or documented social/emotional condition or documented social/emotional circumstances beyond the control of the pupil such pupil's eligibility shall be extended accordingly in that sport."

       That change of wording seemingly took most if not all of the problematic non-medical appeals of the past off the table. It requires credible documentation from medical professionals, a standard already applied in many other day-to-day matters, which makes it a bit easier on the superintendents.

       On the other hand, superintendents are going to have to sign off that "such participation would not have a significant adverse effect upon the opportunity of other pupils to participate successfully in interschool competition in the sport." Elia and the Regents rationalized that superintendents already make comparable decisions in mixed competition cases -- i.e., boys seeking to play on girls teams or vice versa.

       It appears inevitable that superintendents are going to land in no-win territory, especially in instances in which no precedent exists and guidance from Elia is inadequate. Granting approval is likely to raise eyebrows amongst peers worried about their own students competing against the student in question; denying a request for extended eligibility stands a good chance of the school (and the respective NYSPHSAA section) being hauled into court if the appeal that ultimately reaches Elia fails.

        • For the record, the other change the Regents approved has to do with a fairly narrow issue -- namely how the 13 school districts (out of 728 total) in the state that do not have their own high school handle seventh- and eighth-graders seeking to play sports at the high school level.

       I'll try to conjure up the strength to explain that one at a later date.

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