In a stunning turn of events, a Maryland girls basketball coach was forced to hold out one of her players 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 rarely-enforced regulation which requires players who wear a head scarf to produce “documented evidence” that they are required to do so for religious reasons.
As reported by the Washington Post, Watkins Mill junior Je’Nan Hayes was forced to sit out the team’s regional final contest at Oxon Mill because she wears a hijab during games, yet had not provided the official documented evidence required to prove that she wears the headscarf because she is Muslim. The first-year basketball player had previously competed in all 24 of her team’s games previously without any concerns raised by coaches (hers or opposing coaches) or officials.
As one might expect, Hayes was crushed to be forced out of her team’s final game, all because of reasons related to her religion.
“I felt discriminated against and I didn’t feel good at all,” Hayes told the Post. “If it was some reason like my shirt wasn’t the right color or whatever, then I’d be like, ‘okay.’ But because of my religion it took it to a whole different level, and I just felt that it was not right at all.”
Hayes’ coach, Donita Adams, said she struggled to look Hayes in the eyes after officials told her Hayes couldn’t play. And while all have confirmed that the officials were within their right to bar Hayes from the game, both the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and Prince George’s County officials have spoken out to say they disagreed with the decision made by the officials at the game. The officials who issued the ruling at the game have also already apologized to Hayes and her family, per the Post.
Hayes mother, Carlitta Foster-Hayes, said she is working with the director of the National Federation of High School Associations Officials Association to file a formal rule change proposal to the NFHS itself.
For now, Hayes insists she will return to the Watkins Mill team for her senior season next fall, with the hope that she can emerge as advocate for any who have their ability to participate in activities impinged by their religious beliefs.
“I just want to be an advocate for boys or girls, anybody who is trying out for a sport and has a religion and they feel like their faith can interfere with the way they play sports,” Hayes said. “It shouldn’t be that way. And because of rules like these, I feel like it makes people scared or turn away from sports, and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else in the future.”