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High Schooler loses eligibility, but not his conscience, for running in pro-life relay

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I live in a state where in some cases it is easier to solve the Rubik Cube than figure out what makes students eligible—or ineligible—for a myriad of school-related activities. But this story—“Helias runner loses eligibility over pro-life relay, but not his conscience”—may be in a league of its own.

According to the News Tribune (a newspaper that serves Mid-Missouri), 15-year-old James Vignola, a freshman at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City,  ran nearly seven miles in LIFE Runners A-Cross the Country Pro-Life Relay. For his trouble the Missouri High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) took away his eligibility to participate in high school sports for a year.

His offense? Participating in what the MSHSAS considers “non-school competition” during the track season at Helias.

What does The National LIFE Runners team do? “[P]rays, runs, raises money for pregnancy help centers and builds awareness on the issue of abortion,” according to reporter Olivia Ingle. Which makes the decision so odd.

As James told Ingle, what bothered him is that the Relay isn’t a competition. “It is an organized event, but I don’t see how it gives players an advantage, unless I’m competing against someone.”

James also told Ingle that he is getting a lot of school support for his decision. “They’re very proud of me,” he said of his classmates. “They think it was the right thing to do, but were shocked I chose to do this and stand up to MSHSAA.”

And he did know the cost. James’ father told the News Tribune that his son “was told at a track meeting prior to the season that the LIFE Runners event he had signed up for would disqualify him from school athletics.”

But James said, “I thought it was the right thing to do, and my conscience was telling me to do it.”

In his appeal, James said he wants the wording of the eligibility standards to be changed. The school’s athletic director told the newspaper that he’s confident the appeal will go through. (James is appealing the punishment, not the association’s decision.)

Ingle’s story concludes with James explaining that he will continue to run regularly, even though, for now, he can’t run for his high school. He said he has no regrets.

“I want to offer support for the unborn who don’t have a say,” James said.


Chelsea Garcia is a political writer with a special interest in international relations and social issues. Events surrounding the war in Ukraine and the war in Israel are a major focus for political journalists. But as a former local reporter, she is also interested in national politics.

Chelsea Garcia studied media, communication and political science in Texas, USA, and learned the journalistic trade during an internship at a daily newspaper. In addition to her political writing, she is pursuing a master's degree in multimedia and writing at Texas.

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