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June 03, 2009

BHS Athletes Rally to Defend Teammate - *UPDATE*

UPDATE: The Vermont Principal's Association ruled this afternoon that Minh John Lu will be allowed to compete in the New England Championships at Burlington High School in two weeks, Burlington High School principal Amy Mellencamp told Seven Days. Scroll down for complete update...


Hundreds of people are coming to the defense of a star long jumper at Burlington High School after he was disqualified from competing at the upcoming New England championships.

Minh John Lu, a BHS senior, was disqualified at the Essex invitationals this past weekend after a Middlebury coach complained about a logo visible on the athlete's compression shorts. The shorts are part of the BHS uniform, and team members have been wearing them in competitions throughout the year.

State rules govern how big a logo can be on an article of clothing worn during competition, and it varies depending on the garment.

MinhBHS Principal Amy Mellencamp has officially protested the ruling and asked the Vermont Principal's Association to reconsider its decision, according to Mike Anderson, BHS track coach.

The ruling keeps Lu from competing in the New England championships where it is expected he would place among the top long jumpers in the region, if not end up in the top spot.

"I think it's just crazy to have the top long jumper in the state — by far — not competing in the New Englands and representing Vermont because of this violation," said Anderson, Lu's coach. Anderson said Lu is the best jumper in Vermont by nearly two feet.

Lu's best recorded jump this season is 21 feet, 10 inches, but the humble student athlete notes, he believes he can best that by close to two feet if conditions are right. Earlier this year he jumped 22 feet 8 inches in a New York competition.

The day after Saturday's meet in Essex, Kevin Chu, one of Lu's teammates and a top-ranked runner in his own right, wrote a letter to the Vermont Principal's Association asking them to reconsider Lu's disqualification. He also started a Facebook group, Protest the unjust disqualification of Minh John Lu of Burlington. The Facebook group went from a handful of supporters Sunday to nearly 700 as of Wednesday morning.

"On Sunday I wrote the letter and started the group and went to work and when I came home, my inbox was just filled," Chu told Seven Days.

"Many of the meet officials I talked to about this said the rule is in the rulebooks and they are obligated to enforce it, but I feel like track rules shouldn't matter if they don't affect the outcome of the competition," noted Chu. "There is no competitive advantage from wearing a logo. The rules in place to preserve safety and fairness and I'm all for them."

Besides, Chu adds, there are no rules saying how large a logo has to be on a pair of running shoes.

Chu was so upset with the ruling that he contemplated pulling out of the New England championships to protest the ruling. A star runner, Chu is in contention to place among the top runners.

In the end, Lu wouldn't allow him to back out.

"I think it shows how much he cares, but besides me he also has a really good chance at being all New England as well — I want him to run no matter what happens to me," said Lu. "And no matter what happens to me, I just want my teammates to focus on states this weekend — that should be the main focus for us."

The star jumper has been overwhelmed by the response to his predicament, and is trying to do his best to remain focused on this weekend's state championships. He's hoping he and his teammates can bring home a crown for the hometown crowd.

That selfless attitude has inspired many of his teammates and members of the community to rally behind him.

"New England is big but right now I'm focused on states," adds Lu, who has been competing in track events since middle school. "Whatever happens, happens and I just want to thank everyone for doing this. It's been amazing."

Lu will compete in the New England championships in the triple jump, which is not his best event. But he did qualify at the recent invitational in that event. As a top jumper in Vermont, he'd like to represent the state in the regional competition and give Vermont a shot at taking home a title in the long jump, which is his signature event.

Mike Anderson said Lu should not be disqualified because of he, the coach, made an error.

"I want to publicly apologize to Minh, for not doing my job to the best of my ability. I hope this works out for him as he is not only one of the best athletes I have ever coached, but one of my best friends," Anderson noted in a recent post to the Facebook page.

Anderson hopes Bob Johnson, the VPA official in charge of reviewing appeals, overturns the ruling and let's Lu represent Vermont in the New England competition.

Johnson failed to return phone calls from Seven Days as of this posting.

Lu remains optimistic but understands the decision is out of his hands.

"I'm not trying to get anyone else DQ'd, but there were other kids who wore the same outfit that I was and had the logo right on top, so I honestly don't know why the Middlebury coach came after me," said Lu. "I'm upset but can't really do anything about it — I just hope it all turns out positive in the end."

VPA officials could rule by the week's end.

(Photo of Minh John Lu courtesy of Kath Monstream)

UPDATE 3:50 p.m.:

The Vermont Principal's Association ruled this afternoon that Minh John Lu will be allowed to compete in the New England Championships at Burlington High School in two weeks, Burlington High School principal Amy Mellencamp told Seven Days.

"The letter essentially states that Minh John competed in good faith and had in fact been wearing the uniform that the school supplied him and that he had been competing in all year," said Mellencamp. "I'm really glad this was the decision, as it was through no fault of his own that this happened."

Even though six competitors have already been named to the Vermont team, Lu will be able to compete, said Bob Johnson, VPA's activities director. Johnson issued the ruling this afternoon.

"There was no reason to punish a student for something the adults did wrong," said Johnson. "And, I also wanted to make sure that our decision didn't mean that one of the six qualifying athletes wouldn't be able to compete."

The athlete in question, Minh John Lu, was practically speechless when he heard the news.

"It feels great. I was so excited and really happy to hear the news, I'm still pretty much speechless," said Lu. 

The VPA also said the school's track coaches would be on a one-year probation and would have to complete a refresher course on official track rules and prove they had studied the rulebook, added Johnson. They have until the start of next year's track season to prove they have read up on the rules.

Johnson said the rule related to logos on sports jerseys is applied in all 50 states, and is there to avoid gross commercialization of team uniforms.

"This isn't as much of a problem in Vermont, but in larger states its a big issue," said Johnson.

I wonder why the Middlebury coach made a big deal out of the logo. Anyone know why?

Absolutely ridiculous! Take a stitch puller, remove the logo, or buy another pair of compression shorts, and let the kid compete. The logo is not a sponsorship. He didn't get money and extra training resources to wear the pants. What kind of a world are we living in when our best can't demonstrate their ability because of a few threads of cotton on their shorts. I am usually proud to live in Vermont, but this is shameful and embarrassing.

Matt S. - Sour grapes, one would have to assume. Seriously dick move on his part.

Most likely the Middlebury coach has a son who is competing in the same event, and he is doing his "Dad" duty to give his kid a fighting chance. There is a rule in HS Wrestling that says you have to tape your shoe laces down so they don't come untied during competition. Now, this is a good rule, because untied laces can interfere with the wrestling match. At the same time, no wrestler is disqualified from competing because his shoes were untied. They might deduct a team point for not being ready, and then they tell him to tape his shoes quickly. This is preposterous, and I fear that this poor kid is going to lose a ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity here, because a bitter man who doesn't measure up is clinging to "the rules" and the Vermont Principals Association doesn't have the balls to do the right thing. Are you really going to change the course of this kids life because of this? Really? I live in Middlebury, and I will do whatever I can to make that Middlebury coach look like as much of an idiot as I can in town.

Nice to see that track meet officials still have the same power trips and hopelesly misguided priorities as they did when I was in high school. Some things don't change.

The Middlebury coach also seems like a pretty sad character. Clearly taking high school sports waaay too seriously. If I were a Middlebury runner or jumper I'd be embarrassed to be on that team right now.

It's sad that the Middlebury coach has to pull this BS and potentially ruin the carreer of a very talented athlete. Pure jealousy I suppose. There is no reason to DQ him from New England's just put a square of duct tape over the "offendin" logo and let him fly.

Holy sour grapes indeed! Those shorts look like Under Armour. They're expensive, but they're the best--and I GUARANTEE you that UA doesn't sponsor any high school teams. (My nephews wear them for HS football, under their uniforms, and have to buy their own. I wear them to work out.) The logo is tiny, and a small piece of black electrical tape would have solved the situation. Lodge your protest BEFORE the kids compete, not after they kick your team's behind.

I agree with commenter BENMAC above: complete and total dick move. If these shorts are part of the BHS track team uniform, are they trying to DQ all BHS athletes? If I read the post right, why is this one athlete being DQ'd from his best event (long jump), but not another (triple jump)? Did he wear different shorts?

I'll be updating this post shortly, but just got word 15 minutes ago that the Vermont Principal's Association has overturned the disqualification of Minh John Lu and he will be allowed to compete in the New England Championships at Burlington High School in two weeks. Check back for a full report.

I want the logo's banned from all shoes!! Or have all athletes compete barefoot. The great anti-business god help you all there in Vermont from the evils of advertising.

Obviously, it's a stupid rule and they need to get rid of it so others can't find stupid rules to abuse like that one.

Nice job, Bob Johnson. You made the right decision. Way to uphold the ideal of righteousness. You had veto power, and you used it responsibly. Thanks, and congratulations to Minh John Lu! Kick butt at the New Englands!

I wish I knew why the Midd coach was so motivated to disqualify minh over a logo. I know he said he had warned in earlier meets, but it was my understanding that he warned about the spandex shorts worn without the track shorts over. I believe he felt it didn't comply with the regulation school issued track uniform. The principal ok'ed the boys wish to compete in the black spandex. So then why the big fuss over the logo?

In the triple jump competition, he wore a fellow track team members shorts over his Under Armour.

OK, good for Burlington. And glad the VPA came to its senses.

But here's a question: What happened to the disqualification of the Champlain Valley Union High School 4X800 girls' relay which happened DURING the race because someone squawked about some post earrings one of the girls forgot to take out? Yet the team STILL came in first by more than 20 seconds despite the officials yelling to the CVU runners not to try because they'd been disqualified? Does that take rattling of cages? Is that the only way for the VPA atheletic division to examine why it makes such arbitrary and unfair decisions and does not, say, tell a student before she runs or jumps that there's an infraction? And what is the danger in wearing post earrings in a running competition in the first place?

Another question: Was the CVU runner the only runner on the track to have worn earrings by mistake that day or just the only one the VPA disqualified?

CVU Parent: I didn't follow the CVU team's DQ as part of this particular story, but their disqualification was upheld today by the VPA. I don't know the reason behind their decision, though, only that it was upheld.

cvu parent, I am sorry they upheld the dsq for your relay team, seems so unrelated. An ear ring, a running race, why such harsh consequences?

I say fine the teams, make them pay say 250. and they have to earn it themselves with bottle drives, bake sales, carwash. Or community service, team caught with earring works at Food Shelf for half a day...but don't deny the athletes their chance to compete over petty stuff.


Thanks for the response, Katharine, too. They upheld the DQ because the VPA had told coaches beforehand. Unfortunately the girls running coach wasn't there that day and no coach met with the girls before the race. Still their obligation and they knew the rules, but one of them forgot. Simple as that. The rule itself seems silly but the decision to uphold seems very much a bureaucracy watching out more for its rules than the good of the athletes. This was a relay team that has gotten very good, probably had a decent shot at the New Englands and the girls were extraordinarily discouraged. The rest of the day was a bit of a disaster for all four of them.
Not exactly end of the world kind of stuff, but an interesting example of how our rule-based society really has forgotten how to use logic -- earrings don't present a danger, they don't assist any athlete in their performance and if they are spotted early, how much effort does it take for officials or opposing coaches or runners to say to a kid, "Hey, don't forget to take out your earrings." Seems a far better "lesson" in sportsmanship than the VPA's autocratic ruling.

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