Umpires told a high school softball player in Durham to remove beads from her braids or leave the game

Nicole wearing jersey No. 6.

Umpires asked a softball player for Durham’s Hillside High School to remove the beads attached to the end of her braids or leave the game.

With the help of teammates, Nicole Pyles, a sophomore, cut off the beads and eventually her braids to remain in the April 19 game against rival Jordan High School.

“Without being disrespectful, I asked the umpire, ‘You officiated games where I was wearing these braids and beads, so what is the issue?’” Nicole said in a statement. “My braids were not covering my number. I felt like the world was staring at me. Why me? Why anybody for that fact? It was embarrassing and disrespectful.”

Click here to see a video of Nicole discussing the incident. 

Under the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) Rule 3-2-5, which covers uniforms and player equipment for students participating in softball, “Plastic visors, bandannas and hair-beads are prohibited.”

The NC High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) is a member of the NFHS, which is the organization that helps provide uniform playing rules for high school athletics across the nation.

The umpire’s decision to ask Nicole to remove her braids or leave the game has raises questions about the cultural fairness of such rules.

The Durham City Council became the first in the state to pass an ordinance in January banning hair discrimination within the workplace when it approved the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act” or CROWN Act.  The ordinance does not cover students in educational settings.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) called for DPS and the NCHSAA to adopt policies to eradicate all forms of discrimination in schools and athletic events.

The organization noted that the General Assembly is weighing a statewide CROWN Act (Senate Bill 165), which it wants expanded to include protections in academic settings.

Nicole and her parents also asked DPS and the NCHSAA to adopt new policies to prohibit Black hair discrimination in schools.

“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, especially someone who looks like me,” Nicole said.

The family has requested formal apologies from the Jordan High coaching staff;  the umpires working the game and Mark Dreibelbis, supervisor of officials for the NCHSAA.

“The humiliation my child experienced could have, and should have, been avoided,” said Julius Pyles, said Nicole’s father. “A level of professionalism should have resolved this situation so that no child, regardless of color, while under adult supervision, would experience discrimination because of their hairstyle.”

Durham Public Schools said Rule 3-2-5 is “culturally biased” in a statement sent to Policy Watch.

“Durham Public Schools is actively investigating the circumstances at the April 19 Hillside-Jordan softball game in which a game official required a student-athlete to remove beads in her hair,” the statement said. “The player cut her hair to comply. Durham Public Schools recognizes that the National Federation of State High School Associations has a specific rule (rule 3-2-5) against hair-beads, however DPS believes this rule is culturally biased. DPS is continuing to investigate the enforcement of this rule in this circumstance.”

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said coaches are responsible for ensuring athletes abide by playing rules.

“We empathize with the student athlete and her experience,” Tucker said. “It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred. The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them prior to participating in any athletic contest.”

Tucker added: “This is not a new rule and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified as supported by NFHS Rule,” Tucker said. “Further, according to NFHS Softball Rule 3-5-1, prior to the start of a contest, it is the responsibility of each coach to verify to the plate umpire that all his or her players are legally equipped, and that players and equipment are in compliance with all NFHS rules.”

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