State association reverses stance on track athletes wearing hair beads

COLONY — The New York State Public High School Athletic Association reversed its stance on Tuesday regarding athletes wearing hair beads after a firestorm erupted inside Section II track circles over the topic on Sunday and Monday.

NYSPHSAA officials voted unanimously Tuesday morning to impose a moratorium on the enforcement of a jewelry rule stipulating that hair adornments are prohibited until the body director of the organization can meet to discuss the matter further. NYSPHSAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas announced the decision Tuesday afternoon during a press conference at the organization’s office in Latham.

“This morning we were able to announce that we were going to impose a moratorium on the hair adornment rule that we have within the association to give us the opportunity – as an association with our full members – to ‘Go ahead and review this rule,’ Zayas said.

On Monday, Zayas said the policy had been in existence for more than 20 years and changes could only be made through a formal process.

At two recent Section II meets, athletes were told they could not compete with hair beads, and several area track coaches said it was the first time they had faced to such a position on the part of the state association. In a statement released by the Capital Region BOCES on Monday, 30 head teachers from Section II districts expressed concern over the policy.

“Our student-athletes are the winners here,” Mohonasen track and field coach Bill Sherman said Tuesday. “Students who have been greatly impacted by this new interpretation, at least in Section II, are often marginalized, they are asked to explain who they are and to explain their culture. Sport should be a refuge. has not been in many cases.”

State Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. and State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa released a joint statement late Tuesday that read, “While the ‘moratorium’ on the NYSPHSAA rule banning hair beads is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. It is imperative that the rule not be reinstated as it contradicts the Board and Department’s goal of making all students feel welcome and supported.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has made several changes in recent years that have made the rules on hair adornments more lenient.

In a statement released Tuesday ahead of Zayas’ press conference, the NYSPHSAA said its constitution (Article IV.2) allows for decisions to be made on matters of emergency.

“In consultation with NYSPHSAA Legal Counsel, the NYSPHSAA Executive Director, and following NFHS hair adornment guidelines, we have felt it is more appropriate to make this decision today on behalf of student-athletes,” NYSPHSAA President Julie Bergman said in Tuesday morning’s release.

Mohonasen track and field athletes had gathered as a team on Monday to discuss what to do about the hair bead problem. The team voted unanimously to support anyone who wanted to wear pearls at Wednesday’s Colonial Council meeting it is hosting against Albany Academy, Cobleskill and Lansingburgh. Sherman emailed Zayas Monday night saying his team was prepared to forfeit three times if Mohonasen’s athletes had to remove the hair beads. Sherman said other teams in the area are lining up to follow Mohonasen’s lead.

“I’m relieved at this decision,” Sherman said.

“I’m thrilled,” said Mohonasen senior sprint star Zionna Perez-Tucker, who won indoor state titles in the 55- and 300-meter races this winter. “Our team takes the track very seriously. To be undefeated in the Colonial Council, to lose for us would have been important. We were defending that. I hope everyone is as happy as I am. We all came together to do just that. one. They listened and things changed.”

Regarding Mohonasen’s willingness to forfeit a match for what they felt was an unfair rule, Zayas said: “I think what we’re seeing here is the kids being passionate and enthusiastic about their teammates. and rules and regulations that govern their sport. It’s great to see, but we also have a process to change the rules and regulations. Before things get too out of hand, we wanted to take a step back, put a moratorium on the rule and give us the opportunity to review the rule with our committees that are in place for these purposes.”

Sherman said Zayas contacted him on Tuesday and the two men spoke by phone. Sherman said he was thrilled and grateful that Zayas made the effort.

“Dr. Zayas was very open to having a conversation and listening,” Sherman said. “Both of us as white men can be hard to realize how these policies impact students of color. Together, in partnership with the greater community, we can work towards equity, diversity and inclusion. It’s something Dr. Zayas said NYSPHSAA was He gave us the opportunity to partner with him and we are and we will. He said he was ready to meet our coaches. and our athletes. At some point, I hope we can get there. Congratulations on that.”

Mohonasen athletes will wear hair beads on Wednesday and some members of the other teams competing in the competition plan to do so as well.

Andrew B. Reiter