Eighth-grade cross country phenom banned from varsity races she would likely win because of bizarre age rule

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Bryna DelCastillo has a gift. An eighth-grader at Coon Rapids (Minn.) Middle School, DelCastillo is without question the fastest runner on the Coon Rapids (Minn.) High cross country team. With a time that could compete with most runners across the state, DelCastillo is already significantly faster than all her teammates, to a point where she is expected to win each race and every training run.

Coon Rapids cross country phenom Bryna DelCastillo — iHigh
Coon Rapids cross country phenom Bryna DelCastillo — iHigh

There's just one problem: She isn't allowed to race or even train with her teammates.

As reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, DelCastillo is the victim of a bizarre circumstance in which the Anoka-Henepin School District has decided to unilaterally ignore Minnesota High School League rules which allow high schools to field seventh and eighth-graders on varsity sports teams. The small school district has long had its own regulation that students will not compete with other high schoolers until they are high school students themselves.

The policy of the Anoka-Henepin school district is in vast contrast with the rest of the state, as evidenced by Thursday's results at the Minnesota state tennis tournament. In the Class 2A girls singles competition, Edina (Minn.) Middle School seventh-grader Sophia Reddy reached the semifinals, plowing through upperclassmen on her way.

That decision has hurt both DelCastillo and Coon Rapids, with her would-be teammates all passionately advocating on the 13-year-old's behalf, even if it could cost some of them spots in competitive varsity races.

"[We] want the opportunity to chase Bryna in a race," Paige D'Helly, a Coon Rapids team captain and two-time state tournament runner, told the Star Tribune. "The times do not lie. She is faster than us."

DelCastillo's talent is no laughing matter, as she would widely be tipped to either win or place in almost any race she entered, if she was allowed to. Her coach claims that she is a full 30 seconds faster than any of her teammates ... on a state qualified team. Instead, she competes in junior varsity division races, beating all her competitors so badly that she literally paces herself off the golf cart that leads the race.

In fact, DelCastillo is so much faster than everyone else on the Coon Rapids squad that several top varsity runners have specifically asked to train in junior varsity practices just so they can pit themselves against the eighth-grade wunderkind.

That DelCastillo is a running phenom was even backed up by the longtime cross country coach at the University of Minnesota, Roy Griak.

"Coach Griak said he's never seen anything like Bryna," Coon Rapids cross country and track coach Don Timm told the Star Tribune. "He coached at the university for three decades and I've coached for 40 years and we both think she's in a class by herself."

For now, DelCastillo is in a class by herself within the junior varsity ranks. The team's latest appeal to the Anoka-Henepin School District was denied on Wednesday, apparently killing off any chance that DelCastillo would have had at competing in the forthcoming state meet.

That will buy other Minnesota female runners another year before they have to deal with DelCastillo's blistering times and a suddenly improved Coon Rapids squad. After that, all bets are off.

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