ENID, Okla. —
‘Tis the season for the winding down of spring sports in Oklahoma.
The state track meet for small schools was last weekend, while the large school meet is coming up at the end of this week.
High school soccer wraps up this weekend, as does baseball, tennis was last weekend, slow pitch softball ended last week and golf finishes this week.
The same is true in Texas, where track teams recently tried to qualify for their state meet.
The 4x100 relay team from Columbus (Texas) High won their qualifying race handily, thanks in part to a blistering anchor leg run by junior Derrick Hayes.
Upon crossing the finish line, Hayes pointed straight out in front of him in celebration of his team’s qualifying for the state meet.
That gesture resulted in his team’s disqualification.
Hayes was not taunting his opponents, not trying to show anyone up. Instead, he was simply celebrating his team’s victory.
No matter, ruled the referee governing the meet. Before the event, athletes were warned about making any gestures and told that any such display could be grounds for disqualification.
There is no avenue for appeal, no chance of requalifying, so Hayes and his three teammates are out of luck.
All because of a finger point.
Granted, excessive celebrations can get out of hand at all levels of athletic competition.
Soccer players rip their shirts off and slide on their knees before being buried by a mound of happy teammates after a goal. A football player scores a touchdown and does a little happy dance before spiking the ball. A baseball player hits a home run, then runs around the bases just a little too slowly, gesturing at the pitcher that yielded the bomb.
All could be characterized as excessive celebrations. That is not the case with a simple finger point.
The finger point has long been an accepted gesture in big league baseball. Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz, among others, directed digits toward the heavens after hitting home runs.
But for a high school track team in Texas a simple pointed finger is unacceptable?
First reports that the young man was disqualified for pointing a finger to heaven in expression of his faith were inaccurate. He did point to the sky at one point, but he was disqualified for pointing directly in front of him just after crossing the finish line.
This is simply a case of unfairly punishing a moment of youthful exuberance.
Had the gesture been somehow offensive (if for instance, he had pointed with his middle finger), or had the finger been wagged in the face of a defeated rival, that would have been far different.
But it was a simple gesture of joy, of celebration. These are young people competing in an activity that is supposed to be fun.
Winning is the goal. Hayes’ team won. He had the right to celebrate.
I guess Hayes was supposed to simply turn and jog back to his teammates, stoic, unsmiling, hands to his sides, like some sort of adolescent robot.
Sports are supposed to be fun. Winning is supposed to be fun. When you are having fun, you should have the freedom to show it.
A little common sense would have gone a long way in this case.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.