Update: At about 1:20 p.m. ET Thursday, a tweet from Terry Toohey -- a Delcotimes.com writer who's been covering this story since last weekend -- stated that Eric Futch has been reinstated for the state meet by the PIAA.
(original story, published two hours earlier, below)
Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.) senior Eric Futch, ranked US#1 in the 400 hurdles after his Penn Relays victory, Thursday morning sought reinstatement into the Pennsylvania AAA state meet (starting Friday) after an unusual disqualification last weekend.
Futch was to appear for an appeal before the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Board of Directors in Chambersburg, Pa. at 11 a.m. Thursday, according to a story at Delcotimes.com. Two previous appeals had been denied this week by the PIAA after Futch was disqualified from the District 1 meet in Coatesville last Saturday.
Futch, an all-around sprint/hurdle star for the traditionally powerfully Pennsylvania program who also was the New Balance Outdoor Nationals 400H champ last spring, had already won the 300 hurdles (37.08) and 200 (21.23), and was planning to run on the 4x400 with his team. Seeking shelter during a brutally hot and sunny afternoon, Futch reportedly sat down in a tent near the awards stand. He was then told that he could not sit there and had to leave. An argument ensued between Futch and two members of the awards staff, and he eventually left.
The story goes on to say a second similar argument occurred between Futch and awards staff after he won the 200. Then meet director Harry Lewis DQ’d Futch after he said Futch ignored his request to leave the track. The report filed by Lewis states that Futch was disqualified for “unsportsmanlike conduct” under rule 4-6-1 of the National Federation rulebook. State rules indicate such a DQ also includes suspension for the following (state) meet.
During the week since, reports of the incident on Delcotimes.com and other publications, and social media responses to those reports, have raised several issues concerning the incident and the meet in general. The PIAA and meet management have come under fire for not only the harshness of the suspension to a national class athlete, but also their inability to adequately protect athletes having finished their races and waiting at length for awards (some with events yet to contest) from the heat. An earlier story from Delcotimes.com indicated that the PIAA state meet and District 11 meets (two examples) had tents for both recovering and waiting athletes, as well as those needing medical attention. Not so at the District 1 meet. A secretary for the district admitted it was a problem and the kids had no place to go.
Yet another Delcotimes.com story by a different reporter in attendance dug deeper into the scene, describing one official telling Futch he’d never amount to anything and other ugly or unjust aspects of the situation – including a press box confab he overheard between officials that smacked of vindictiveness toward Futch and Penn Wood, and triggered the DQ.
Online responses to the stories and other social media have not surprisingly strongly called for Futch to be reinstated and shamed the PIAA and meet management for their handling of the situation. An online petition has been set up at change.org with more than 300 signatures. But it hasn’t all been one-sided. Other comments from supposed eye-witnesses cited disrespectful and profane comments from Futch, and one message board post at pa.milesplit.com from meet announcer Bill Lott said the reporter’s comments about the press box conversation were “laced with embellishments, misconstructions, and/or fallacies.”
What is clear is that a difficult situation was caused by tough field conditions, tempers flared, one of Pennsylvania’s great athletes has been suspended from the state meet, and a final bid is being made Thursday for reinstatement.
The most recent Delcotimes.com story also adds that if board denies Futch's appeal, he and his family could seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in court to block the suspension.