On March 3, Watkins Mill (Gaithersburg, Md.) junior Je’Nan Hayes was held out of a girls basketball tournament game due to a rarely enforced rule.
On March 31, Hayes received word that the rule had been changed.
“It was just an amazing feeling and I was really excited,” Hayes told the Washington Post recently. “I almost burst into tears because I was so happy.”
Hayes’ coach, Donita Adams, was forced to hold her out from a regional final after referees enforced a rule they had passed on previously all season: They deemed her hijab to be a violation of a regulation which makes players who wear a head scarf to produce “documented evidence” that they are required to do so for religious reasons.
Hayes did not play in the regional final at Oxon Mill (a 51-36, season-ending loss) because she wears a hijab during games and had not provided the official documented evidence required to prove that she wears the headscarf because she is Muslim. However, the first-year player had previously competed in all 24 of her team’s games without any concerns raised by coaches or officials.
On the day the new rule was passed, per the Post, Adams sent Hayes a screenshot of a letter from the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association: The rule that required a waiver for her hijab, leading a referee to bar her from playing in that game because Watkins Mill was without a waiver, had been altered. Players in Maryland no longer need a waiver for religious garments.
The letter, written by Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association executive director Andy Warner, gives a waiver to any “head covering, wrap, or other required religious garment” that is not dangerous or likely to come off during play.
The rule also appears in the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA) rule book and is regulated by states. The officiating supervisors and athletic directors in Maryland helped the new rule go into effect immediately.
“The officials made what we believe was an incorrect decision, but decided that by the letter of the law as they understood it that she should not be allowed to play,” Bill Reinhard, director of communications for the Maryland State Department of Education, told the Post. “And we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.”