A lot of debate was sparked this past week over a high school swimming decision in Alaska.
According to Anchorage Daily News, a Dimond High School swimmer was stripped of her victory last Friday after she was disqualified for a “uniform violation.” The National Federation of High Schools rule says that boys must cover their buttocks while girls must cover their buttocks and breasts with their suits. An official who oversaw Friday’s meet said the referee who disqualified the girl said she could see “butt cheek touching butt cheek.” This was the teen’s one disqualification out of the four races she competed in.
Annette Rohde, an official who was present at the dual meet between Dimond and Chugiak, said she “froze in disbelief” when she witnessed the disqualification decision by the referee. “I told her, ‘I need to know how you’re defining this, because this is going to blow up,'” Rohde said.
South High swim coach Cliff Murray explained that Anchorage High School coaches were told “that as far as the buttocks region goes, you should not be showing any part of the intergluteal cleft.” He continued, “If you’re in a situation where your suit creeps up, somebody comes over to a coach and says ‘hey, you’ve got an athlete who needs to adjust his or her suit,’ and they have that opportunity to fix it. And if they don’t, there are ramifications.”
The school district explained that the disqualified swimmer “was wearing the approved, school-issued suit during the race.”
When news of the disqualification hit the swimming community, West High coach Lauren Langford slammed the decision in a Medium post, saying the girls’ bodies are being “policed.” She continued, “These young swimmers aren’t being punished for wearing their suits in scandalous or provocative ways, but rather, because their ample hips, full chests, and dark complexions look different than their willowy, thin, and mostly pallid teammates. Some will argue this scandal has nothing to do with race. But the issue becomes glaring when officials are overheard acknowledging that white athletes are baring too much skin as well, yet they’ve never been disqualified for a similar violation.”
According to KTUU, the disqualified swimmer in question, 17-year-old Breckynn Willis, is of mixed race and is considered one of the school’s most promising athletes.
“She’s one of three girls on the Dimond team who look like her,” said Langford. “Everybody else is in same suit, sized to fit, and yet on a team of however many girls she was the only one that got singled out?”
Luckily, people in power took into account the backlash and according to Anchorage Daily News, Willis’ disqualification was overturned on Tuesday by the Alaska School Activities Association, the group that oversees Alaska high school sports. They made their decision based on the rule that says when an official finds a uniform violation, they must notify the swimmer’s coach. The ASAA said in a statement, “All evidence gathered, including the statement provided by the official, indicated the official did not notify the coach prior to disqualifying the student.”
The Anchorage School District also called the decision to disqualify Willis “heavy-handed and unnecessary” and was “based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body.” They continued, “We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape.”
The district said they’re seeking to have the ASAA decertify the official who disqualified Willis and they want revisions to the uniform rule, saying the National Federation of High Schools swimsuit coverage rule “is ambiguous and allows the potential for bias to influence officials’ decisions.”