By Heidi Boyum
Superintendent of Schools Kirk Miller has granted the Havre Independent Boys running club permission to compete in the Havre Invitational meet on Saturday.
Miller had denied the club's request to participate last year until issues concerning legal liability could be thoroughly considered, he said.
"This is an instance where we have an activity not sanctioned by the Montana High School Association so the gray of liability becomes grayer," said Miller.
Havre High School deleted school-sanctioned boys cross country in the mid-'80s in compliance with Title IX, which requires equal number of sports for boys and girls.
In the years since the sport was cut, a few boys have shown interest in cross country participation, but in the spring of 1999, parents and students officially approached the School Board and administration with a proposal to add two new MHSA-sanctioned sports. This proposal led to the creation of the Athletic Review Task Force designed specifically to research every element of the possibility.
The task force included the high school principal, activities director, high school coaches and students, Booster Club and School Board members, district transportation director, Title IX director and representatives from the city soccer, softball and cross country organizations.
By February 2000, the task force had studied what other Class A schools were doing, Havre's financial ability to support new activities, and the needs and wants of the community. The decision was made to neither delete nor add any sports.
The parent and student group lobbying for the sanctioning of boys cross country then created the Havre Independent Boys running club. As a club, they approached various school districts seeking permission to run in invitational meets.
Jim Haugen of the MHSA left decisions to include nonsanctioned schools up to the individual districts. Schools granting inclusion of the Independent boys club required signed waivers of liability before the runners stepped foot on the courses.
Ron Watson, coach and organizer of the Independent boys club, approached the Havre school district requesting permission to run in the fall 2000 Havre Invitational as a club, but legal liabilities remained an issue and permission was denied.
Hesitant to repeat last year's events, Watson strongly debated with himself whether to request permission again.
"I'd rather take a shotgun blast then go in front of the board again," said Watson. "It hurt so badly to love something so much, lay it all in front of the board and be denied."
Watson said it is not Miller's fault the boys couldn't run last year because if he sees any amount of liability, his first responsibility is to protect the school.
After much consideration, Watson approached Miller last Thursday seeking permission for the boys to run in the Havre Invitational.
"It comes to a point where you should stand up for what you believe and you get tired of walking on eggshells," said Watson. "I felt strongly in my heart that it was time to deal with this."
After initially denying the club again, Miller weighed pros and cons over the weekend, met with Watson and parent Gerald Olson to discuss specifics of the boys' participation and ultimately gave the go-ahead.
"Given the circumstance, I personally felt the advantages for the students to run outweighed the disadvantages, so I approved it," said Miller.
One advantage is that students are voluntarily participating in a healthy activity, he said.
The liability disadvantage will be satisfied by requiring signed waivers from each of the club members.
"I'm happy for these young men who have taken on a healthy activity it's a good choice, compared to other activities they might be choosing," said Havre High athletic director Dennis Murphy.
"Running is a lifelong sport a gift," said Watson. "Not many people are given both the ability, and like, of running."
The Havre Independent boys running club will be competing in the Havre Invitational as a nonsanctioned organization, along with Havre's MHSA-sanctioned girls cross country team Saturday on the Montana State University-Northern campus.