Running Up Against Roadblocks

A state high school athletics association’s last-minute invocation of an infrequently used rule prevented Andover’s cross-country teams from competing at a prestigious invitational meet in Manchester, New Hampshire, last weekend. As Coach Jonathan Stableford ’63 explained, the “conspiracy” of public-school athletic bureaucrats that arbitrarily excluded Phillips Academy from this meet acted against the best interests of the student-athletes they represent. To reiterate, we were unable to attend the Manchester Invitational because someone or some people within the governing body for high school sports in Massachusetts chose to prohibit us, as well as Exeter, from competing in a nationally sanctioned competition that we’ve competed in for the past ten years. The national body that sanctions the Manchester meet defers to state organizations to manage teams from their respective states. Massachusetts’s state organization, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), is therefore responsible for seeing that we are eligible to compete, though New Hampshire’s organization is responsible for overseeing the race. The MIAA’s members are public schools as well as some private and parochial schools. Andover has no MIAA membership. The MIAA’s rules, unlike those of other state athletic organizations, require that a school be a member of the association in order to compete in invitational meets. The MIAA has not applied this rule to us in recent history and would not have pressed the issue had not someone filed an anonymous protest first against a five-year Senior at Exeter and then against a member of our team. After the anonymous protest opened this can of worms the week before the meet, the MIAA had the option, according to its own rules, to grant us a waiver that would allow us to compete. The MIAA refused to grant us a waiver, however, reasoning that if we were to misbehave at Manchester, the organization would have no recourse over us, no option to ban us from postseason competition or compel us to forfeit meets, as PA does not belong to the MIAA. Exeter was excluded from the meet on the grounds that if our team’s entry is bureaucratically unacceptable, theirs is likewise impermissible. The MIAA made it clear that if we were to compete without a waiver, then it would punish all of its member schools that ran against us at Manchester. As a result, the meet organizers, who had already accepted our entries, were forced to uninvite us from the meet two days before it was set to occur. The MIAA timed its decision to deny our entry to give Andover no time to file a protest with the national organization. Thus, an organization to which we don’t belong was able to exclude us from a meet with which it has no direct involvement. Further, the MIAA prohibits us from applying for MIAA membership, as independent schools like Andover allegedly violate the spirit of high-school athletics by recruiting athletes and bringing in post-graduates. As the rules currently stand, we’re caught in a catch-22. In order for our teams to attend the Manchester Invitational or other nationally sanctioned meets, we must join the MIAA, which we’re not allowed to join. Our boys’ cross-country team has no post-graduates. We have one Senior who, having begun secondary school in a different country, is currently in his fifth year of high school. In this respect, we are no different from many MIAA schools, despite the MIAA’s assertion that we don’t play by the same set of rules in recruiting that its member schools do. The MIAA contains not just Massachusetts public schools, but private and parochial sports powerhouses such as St. John’s Prep and BC High as well. There is no harm or disruption that our entry into the meet could have caused. We did not pose a credible threat to win the meet. We would, however, have provided an increased level of competition for the teams in the race, and our team would have gained from the experience. It’s unfortunate that some people in the MIAA desire so ardently to build bureaucratic roadblocks to stop our running that they fail to put the interests of high school athletes first. You can send questions to the MIAA by email at or by phone at (508) 541-7997.