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Cameron Smith

Questionable title disqualification draws ire of coach, swimmers

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

When is a state champion interviewed as the best in her sport, only to learn afterward that she's not the champ after all? Only when a bizarre swimming disqualification is registered after post-event television interviews are already recorded in the state of Nebraska.

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According to the Omaha World-Herald and other sources, Omaha (Neb.) Gross High swimmer Katie Ditter, on the left in the photo at right, captured the 100-yard breaststroke title at the state championship meet with a time of 1 minute, 6.84 seconds. She marked the victory exactly as you'd expect, with wild celebratory hugs with teammates and a brief live television interview filmed as she exited the pool.

Yet, when Ditter moved toward the medal stand, she learned belatedly that she wouldn't be receiving anything at all, with her coach informed via a rude, cross-pool shout that she had been disqualified for a stroke violation. The story could have ended there, but it actually got much worse for Ditter, who was forced to suffer the very public humiliation of a disqualification only after the race's sixth-place finisher was announced as the fifth-place winner, with the other place-earners subsequently bumped up a place each as a result.

"I grabbed her arms and told her what had happened," Ralston/Gross High assistant coach Andy Cunningham told the World-Herald. "She was in shock and didn't realize what was going on."

What made the disqualification even more shocking was the judge who ordered it. Meet official Arnie Ban lodged the stroke violation but was not actually listed as a stroke judge in the program for the state meet. Rather, Ban was allegedly a relay takeoff judge alone.

That distinction should have put disqualifying swimmers on the basis of an illegal stroke beyond his purview, which is precisely the point that Ralston/Gross coach Docker Hartfield made to the meet's referee, Terry Seymour.

Yet Seymour refused to convene the meet's protest committee to hear Hartfield's appeal against his swimmer's disqualification, ensuring that the post-Ditter disqualification results would stand as final.

That decision was met with significant contempt by both Ditter and Hartfield, who disagreed with both the decision and the manner in which it was delivered to him and his swimmer.

"I thought the way the rule infraction was delivered to myself and the athlete was uncalled for," Hartfield said. "There was yelling and screaming behind the blocks and that wasn't the way it was supposed to be done. I wasn't handed a disqualification sheet, it was yelled at me."
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