High school track team disqualified for making religious gesture - FOX 35 News Orlando

High school track team disqualified for making religious gesture

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Some people are outraged after a high school track team is disqualified from competing in state finals because one runner made a religious gesture. In just a few seconds the boys Columbus High School 4 X 100 relay team went from winning the regional meet, heading to state championships to having it all stripped away. How did the "W" so quickly become "DQ"? Well. when the anchor of the relay team crossed the finish line, he won the race, raised his finger to the sky and that gesture caused the winning regional's relay team to be disqualified.

"It's a sad deal. I think it's a travesty. Those kids work hard," says K.C. Hayes. Hayes' son Derrick Hayes is the runner who won the race then pointed to God, turning a once in a lifetime opportunity into a huge heartbreak that will likely last his lifetime. "As a team they reached their goal and in an instant it was just gone, over something we think is a non-issue. I guess someone else thinks it is an issue. He just said dad I was pointing at the heavens" says K.C. Hayes.

A judge with the University Interscholastic League or UIL, which enforces the rules for high school athletics, was there at the meet in Kingsville and made the call to disqualify the four member relay team. "For those kids the work they put in, what are we teaching them? Ok you're going to sacrifice, work hard and do everything it takes and ok it's just ripped away," says Hayes.

"It's a harsh consequence for what some people may deem a small gesture. The rule states no celebratory gestures including raising your arms," explains Columbus I.S.D. Superintendent Robert O'Connor. According to the UIL the relay team was disqualified for "unsporting conduct". The UIL also points out, it does not have a rule prohibiting religious expression. "You can do whatever you want to in terms of prayer, kneeling or whatever you want to once you get out of the competition area. You just can't do it in the competition area. It goes back to the taunting rule. I can't taunt my opponent," O'Connor explains.

"It's not a malicious act. It's not a taunting act. It's a 'we did it' and he (my son) knows where the source comes from. I know him. He's not a malicious kid. On the football field he'll hit you and then help you up," Hayes says.

"It's heartbreaking," says O'Connor. Superintendent O'Connor says since Saturday's track meet and the disqualification he has received a number of nasty emails. One read 'Dear sir, you, are an idiot'. O'Connor wants to stress this is not his decision. This is coming from the UIL. In fact, the district protested the disqualification but the UIL is not changing the decision. Please like me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DamaliKeithFOX26?ref=hl and join the conversation on this issue. Follow me on Twitter @DamaliFox26.

(The track meet photos in the video are courtesy The Colorado County Citizen)

The UIL released the following statement in response to this story:

An incident involving the disqualification of the Columbus High School 4X100 meter relay team at the Region IV Conference 3A regional track meet occurred on April 27, 2013. The UIL was made aware of this issue on May 2 after media reports of the disqualification began airing on May 1. Once becoming aware of the incident, the UIL immediately began investigating the matter thoroughly.

Over the course of the investigation, the UIL interviewed several eyewitnesses and reviewed video of the race. Additionally, the UIL spoke to the involved parties. The UIL has concluded the investigation and has found no evidence to suggest that the disqualification took place as a result of the student-athlete expressing religious beliefs. The basis for the disqualification was due to the student-athlete behaving disrespectfully, in the opinion of the local meet referee.

Based on the UIL's investigation, the student athlete raised his hand and gestured forward at the conclusion of the 4x100-meter relay. The meet official approached the student-athlete in an effort to warn him of a possible disqualification should that behavior continue. In the opinion of the official, the student reacted disrespectfully. Based on his reaction, the student-athlete was subsequently disqualified. Any decision to disqualify a student-athlete at any track meet must be upheld by the head meet referee. The meet official and the meet referee conferred, and the disqualification was upheld on-site. At no point during the discussions surrounding the disqualification at the meet was the issue of religious expression raised by any parties.

The UIL's investigation also revealed that all coaches involved were notified prior to the regional meet that any gestures in violation of the National Federation of State High School Associations track and field rule against unsporting behavior would be grounds for disqualification. Coaches were instructed to discuss this with their student-athletes prior to all races.

To assist the UIL in its investigation, the student-athlete's parents submitted a letter stating that their son's religious freedoms were not violated. "In looking back at the conclusion of the 4x100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner," KC and Stacey Hayes said in the letter. "It was not our intention to force the issue that our son's religious freedom was violated. Nor do we feel that way now. After discussing this with our son, we have come to the conclusion that his religious rights were not violated."

The student-athlete who was disqualified also submitted a letter during the investigation stating: "Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4x100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated."

The UIL is committed to protecting student-athletes' and their rights and takes matters such as these seriously. In order to reduce the amount of interpretation on the part of track officials in regards to unsporting behavior, the UIL will work with NFHS for a clearer definition of the unsporting behavior rule.

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