A 16-year-old high school girl in Maryland was not allowed to compete in the regional basketball finals despite playing a full season of games because of her hijab, a part of her Muslim faith.
The news that Je’Nan Hayes wasn’t allowed to play because of her hijab was first reported by The Current, Watkins Mill’s student newspaper few weeks back.
Hayes, a junior at Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, played the first 24 games of the season without a problem, however, a few weeks ago, she was barred from playing a basketball game at her high school because of the headscarf she was wearing.
She did not get to play in the Regional High School Championship game on March 3 as her coaches were told that she could not play because of her headscarf.
“We’ve never been informed of this rule,” Hayes’s coach Donita Adams told CBS Baltimore. Her coach had no choice but to leave her on the bench.
“I didn’t want to look at her and explain to her why she couldn’t play,” Mr Adams said. “I was sad, angered, it was just a lot of emotions,” Ms Hayes said.
According to state rules, Ms Hayes needed documented evidence to cover her head for religious purposes and still be able to take the court pick.
“I feel a rule like this is discriminatory,” Ms Hayes said. It is not often enforced and had not been for the first 24 games of the season in Montgomery County.
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Maryland called for changes with Zainab Chaudry of CAIR saying, “I’d like to think the court has not played a role since we have seen a rise in discrimination.”
After the game, when questioned, the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association issued a statement, saying, “High school athletics in Maryland has a strong and stable tradition of providing safe, meaningful and equitable participation for students.”
“Unfortunately, the officials made a strict interpretation of the National Federation of State High Schools playing rules for basketball instead of the spirit of the rule designed to ensure safety and competitive fairness,” it said.
“There should have been no denial of participation and we are committed to working with the school and the family to ensure this does not happen again,” the statement said.
Both the MPSSAA and the referees association have apologized to Hayes and her family, Carlitta Foster-Hayes, Je’Nan’s mother said, and Hayes is now fixed on having the situation lead to change.
“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.”
Hayes, for starters, has not been deterred from participating.
“I know definitely next year I’m going to try out for basketball,” she said. “It does not stop here.”
Ms Hayes’s team lost the championship game.