NYSPHSAA lifts prohibition on hair beads worn during competition

FILE - Mohonasen track coach Bill Sherman in September 2020. He was among those criticizing a NYSPHSAA rule prohibiting hair beads during competition.
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FILE - Mohonasen track coach Bill Sherman in September 2020. He was among those criticizing a NYSPHSAA rule prohibiting hair beads during competition.

HIGH SCHOOLS The New York State High School Athletic Association lifted a prohibition on hair adornments in competition on Tuesday, a day after a group of school superintendents in Section II protested what they said is a discriminatory rule.

Officers of NYSPHSAA voted unanimously to amend the so-called “Jewelry Rule” to specify that “Hair adornments, including beads, may be worn provided they are secured and do not present a safety hazard to the player, teammates or opponent,” according to a NYSPHSAA release.

Through the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the 30 superintendents cited “at least two situations in area districts where female athletes were asked to remove beads from their hair before they were eligible to compete” over the last two sports seasons.

This enforcement was viewed as targeting high school athletes of color and discriminatory based on the fact that beads have been subject to the rule, while other hair adornments, like ribbons, have not.

Via Twitter, Mohonasen track and field coach Bill Sherman said on Monday that his teams had voted to wear hair beads in protest at their meet on Wednesday and were willing to forfeit if they were ruled ineligible.

The Mohonasen track coaching staff sent a letter to Zayas titled “RE: NYSPHSAA’s Racial Targeting” urging NYSPHSAA to rescind the rule because “Hair beads do not pose a safety risk, nor do they provide an unfair competitive advantage to those who wear them. We believe this unfairly targets students of color.”

NYSPHSAA recently informed school districts that an accommodation already had been in place to allow wearing hair beads for those who considered it part of their culture.

But that would require a special request from a school’s athletic director that included the athlete’s name and a photo of “the hair device in the hair,” followed by a letter of approval from NYSPHSAA that the athlete’s coach would need to bring to a sporting event as a waiver of the rule.

That won’t be necessary, for now, after the moratorium on the rule was voted through by NYSPHSAA.

“Our Association has given the topic a significant amount of attention the past four months as a result of concerns brought to us by the membership,” NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said in the association release. “As a membership-led organization, it is important to listen to the concerns of our schools and take action to ensure student-athletes are able to participate in a beneficial manner while the membership fully examines the rule.”

Sherman responded on Twitter Tuesday afternoon by thanking Zayas for “reaching out and listening.”

“Our students of color have to explain who they are and defend their culture almost every day. Sports should be a safe haven for them,” Sherman said in the tweet.

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