Wearing hair beads during high school softball games is no longer against the rules.
The National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) Board of Directors recently approved a recommendation by the organization’s Softball Rules Committee to strike the restriction from the rule book.
News of the rule change comes nearly two months after Durham Hillside High School softball player Nicole Pyles cut off beads and braids to remain in a game against rival Jordan High School.
Umpires told Pyles to remove the beads attached to the end of her braids or leave the game.
Under the 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 NFHS, in its effort to be a learning organization and one that is founded on the basis of inclusion is striving to work with our young participants in our efforts to celebrate the beautiful diversity that continues to increase,” said Karissa Niehoff, executive director of NFHS. “We are excited about that and want to support that. And while we will always strive to keep kids safe and keep games being played the way they were designed to be played, we do want to recognize the importance of a young person’s identity.
Another new rule allows softball players to wear head coverings during games for religious reasons without prior approval from state high school associations.
Participants in volleyball, basketball, soccer, field hockey and spirit also can wear religious headwear without prior approval from their respective state association. In swimming and diving, competitors who have religious reasons to wear suits that provide full body coverage can do so without obtaining prior state association authorization.
Pyles’ decision to cut off her braids to remain in the game garnered national attention and sparked debate about the cultural fairness of such rules.
“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.”
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) called for Durham Public Schools and the NCHSAA to adopt policies to eradicate all forms of discrimination in schools and athletic events.
Pyles 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,” said Pyles, who is Black.
Durham Public Schools called Rule 3-2-5 “culturally biased.”
“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 said in May.
Critics of the rule noted that the incident with Pyles occurred in Durham where in January, the City Council became the first in the state to pass an ordinance banning hair discrimination within the workplace. The ordinance, “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act” or CROWN Act, does not cover students in educational settings.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker could not be immediately reached for comment late Monday.
In May, 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.”