It was the first day of spring, and Roy Cheney still felt a chill from the winter of his discontent.
While the Evans High School senior prepared to lead the Knights track and field team during a March 20 meet at Blanchard Stadium, his thoughts drifted back to February.
That was when the prep high-hurdle star made a leap of faith.
Tulane University had offered Cheney a track scholarship. Receiving a full-ride with a Division I program was a dream come true, so on Feb. 25, Cheney officially committed to the Green Wave.
Then, a few days later, Cheney's train to New Orleans was derailed by a phone call.
"They just said that the NCAA took away their men's track team," Cheney said. "I had no idea (there were problems) until they called me that night."
This was one hurdle Cheney didn't see coming - Tulane had discontinued its men's track and field program in order to comply with Title IX, the federal education gender equity law.
In a story posted on ESPN.com, Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson stated, "This is obviously a difficult decision...But in light of the significance of the certification process and the university's commitment to fulfilling its objective of sponsoring equitable programs, this is a necessary step."
Title IX was enacted as part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any education, program or activity within an institution receiving federal aid.
The discontinuation of men's track and field at Tulane was prompted by the college's need for equal scholarship opportunities for men and women.
Cheney says he understands the reasoning behind gender equity compliance, but after losing his scholarship, he can't help thinking he's been stung by political correctness run amok.
"It's a political thing. It's all political," he said.
Ups and downs
It's easy to spot Elaine Cheney at an Evans High track meet. She's the one wearing a "Go, Roy, Go" T-shirt.
Hurdlers have to be tough, and so do their moms - Elaine has seen Roy take a few spills, but not too many.
"Confident, I guess, is the word," she said, summing up the mind-set of both mother and son.
Elaine did see Roy's confidence waver at least once + on the night Tulane broke the bad news.
"It was just a big shock," she said. "When he got the phone call, he just drained. It really got the best of him."
The recruiting process is a trying time for high school seniors. Roy sifted through quite a few letters from colleges, and he fielded numerous phone calls.
After officially committing to Tulane, the weight was off his shoulders. All Roy had to do was wait for the official paperwork to arrive in April and then sign his name.
But those plans fell through, and the tension has returned.
"More so now, because of the time factor," Ms. Cheney said. "All the other colleges are getting ready to sign their athletes and here we are back to square one."
With colleges set to sign high school seniors in early April, time is of the essence - as Roy Cheney waits, the scholarship opportunities slip away.
Roy recently visited the University of South Carolina, but was offered only walk-on status. He could have eventually earned a scholarship at USC, but there's good reason to search for other options.
"I'm a single mom and will have three in college at one time," Ms. Cheney says. "It's all on me. There's no other help, unless they take out student loans."
Doug Gurth, a local community coach, has helped develop Cheney's track talent. Gurth didn't expect these ups and downs, even from a hurdler; yet he believes Cheney will land on his feet.
"He's been real disappointed, but now he's looking to bigger and better schools with much stronger track programs," Gurth said. "Roy is going to be one of the better high school athletes in the country this year. I think he's going to be one of the best in the country as a college athlete, too."
Cheney hasn't lost a hurdle race locally since he was a sophomore, and last year he captured Region 4-AAAAA championships in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. He capped his junior campaign by placing fourth in each event at the Class AAAAA state championships.
Over the summer, Cheney won the 110 hurdles at the Golden South meet in Orlando, and also added a high finish in his first-ever attempt in the 400-meter hurdles.
Now Cheney is off to a strong start in his senior season. He sets new school records nearly every meet. In the three-team competition on March 20, he posted record times in both the 110 (13.68) and 300 (37.66) hurdles.
Cheney also competes in long jump and is the anchorman on two relay teams. His specialty, though, is hurdling.
"Everybody knows who Roy is when he shows up," says Lee Chomskis, Evans High's athletic director.
When Cheney stepped into his lane at the March 20 hurdling events, Evans fans were on the edge of their seats.
At the sound of the starting gun, Cheney takes off. The crowd goes into a frenzy, but Cheney is undisturbed.
"When I'm running, I don't hear anything. It's just silence. I tune everything out and just run," he says. "If you start hearing people cheer, you know you're not running hard."
Following the meet at Blanchard Stadium, Cheney gladly listened, as two coaches from the University of Georgia made their pitch.
Last weekend, Cheney's stock rose during a prestigious meet at Georgia Tech. The GATFXC Invitational featured the best high school athletes in the state, and in the 110 hurdles, he placed third in a photo-finish.
"Roy had a personal-best time of 14.3. That was an Accutrack time, which is much faster than a hand-held time," Chomskis said. "They had to go to a camera to see who was first and who was third. If it's that close, all it takes is a scrape of a hurdle and you have a different winner."
The strong showing in Atlanta is a good indication that Cheney's goals are in reach - he says, "If I don't win region and state, I'll be disappointed."
Still, setting records and taking state titles aren't the only things on his mind.
"Right now, I'm just looking for a new scholarship; looking for somewhere else to go, really," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen. I'm hoping it will turn out for the best."
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