Above: Watch the incident in the 2A Championship race above.
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WHITEHALL, Pa - The crowd at the District 11 Championship erupted in a collective gasp as Kaila O'Connor (Jim Thorpe) tumbled over her second hurdle in heat three of the 2A Girls 300mH Championship. The metal and plastic barrier followed her as if in slow motion before flailing into the lane to O'Connor's outside.
A mere moment later, Ellianna Wallbillich (Pen Argyl) glided over her mark before being collected by O'Connor's errant hurdle. Like a living being, it rhythmically snagged Wallbillich's trail leg. She slammed the rubber surface while O'Connor took off again down the stretch.
O'Connor would end up beating the rest of her heat to the line, but in the corner a yellow flag was raised, and just like that her chances at a state title were dashed. Entering the District 11 Championship, O'Connor was the 2A State Leader in the event, holding the fastest time of the year.
O'Connor was disqualified based on Section 5-14 Article 2-F of the NFHS Track and Field Rule book. "It is an infraction if a competitor interferes with another hurdler." The penalty cited in the rules book is a disqualification.
But what about Wallbillich? She entered as one of the top seeds, and falling eliminated her from contention.
The games committee and officiating crew residing over the meet decided to allow Wallbillich to re-run her race under the discretion that she was unfairly impeded during the competition.
Re-runs are not an unprecedented practice in track and field, and while they're not commonplace, officiating crews have the authority to initiate them.
Wallibich would run alone with only the crowd to push her. Pen Argyl Head Track Coach Glenn Bray understood the moment's significance with a state championship bid weighing in the balance.
"I knew the fair ruling should be to let her rerun the race, and that was accomplished," said Bray. "The rest was up to her. I knew she could win it alone, and that is what I told her; 'Forget what happened, refocus and go win."
Above: Watch Ellianna Wallbillich rerun the event.
Wallbillich glided through her re-run, and the crowd rose to elation each time she cleared her next hurdle.
She crossed the finish line in 48.06, despite running the race twice without competition and after suffering a pretty nasty fall.
Wallbillich ran over a second faster than anyone else, winning her first District 11 title. She nearly ran a personal best.
With the win, she will join Notre Dame Green Pond freshman Savina Steele as D11's 300mH State Championship qualifier. Steele finished second with a run of 49.63.