Whitley County junior Codie Thacker did not compete in the regional cross country meet last Saturday because she was assigned bib number 666 — "The mark of the beast in the Bible."
Whitley County Coach Gina Croley said that when she checked her team's roster and her runners' bib numbers Saturday morning, she noticed Thacker had been randomly assigned 666.
"As soon as I saw it, I thought, 'Whoa! she's not going to wear that,'" Croley said.
But Croley didn't think there would be a problem getting Thacker's number changed. When she arrived at the meet at Cave Lake in Monticello, she said she and Thacker went to Gordon Bocock, who was running the meet for the KHSAA, more than two hours before the start of the Class 3A race.
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Croley said she and Thacker made it clear to Bocock that because of religious beliefs, Thacker wanted a different bib number.
"I got a very short 'no' from him and he walked away," Croley said. "Codie started tearing up. I assured her that I wouldn't run with that number either."
Croley said she made another attempt to talk to Bocock, but was told by another official the decision was final.
Bocock remembers the encounter differently. He said he was on his way to the finish chute of the Class 2A race that was already underway when Croley and Thacker approached him.
"I could tell by the looks on their faces they had a question, so I said, 'You got a question we can handle quickly?'
"The girl said, 'Yes, I need a new number.'
"I said, 'What happened?'
She said, 'I don't like the number.'
"I said, 'Well, that's not really a reason.'
Then the coach asked, 'Can we change it?'
"I said, 'no.'
"There was nothing said at all about religion."
Bocock said if Croley and Thacker had come back to him when he wasn't busy and made their reasons clear, he could have accommodated a change.
"But they didn't come see me again," he said. "It's an unfortunate circumstance. I admire the young lady for standing up for her beliefs."
The KHSAA released a statement Wednesday saying numbers are assigned by computer and that there has never been an objection to any specific number before now.
Bocock said coaches have their runners' number assignments at least two days before the race, so there's time to check them in advance.
"Sometimes on the day (of the meet), an official has to make an instantaneous decision," he said. "Unfortunately, (Croley and Thacker) never came back to me to explain everything."
Croley insisted they made it clear the first time they talked to Bocock.
"We both used the term 'religious beliefs' and 'in the Bible,'" she said. "It couldn't have been any clearer."
Croley said she told Thacker "missing the race wasn't in vain. Because of what she went through, hopefully another child won't have to go through this.
"We are the Bible Belt; we're southern Kentucky. I'm sure Codie's not the only one who would've felt that way about wearing 666."