This, after one of Dimonds competitive racers suddenly found herself disqualified from the heat shed already won, sidelined by a referee whod deemed the teens team-issued uniform to be in violation of the rules.
“If we find that this was an error in judgment by an official, we are going to definitely ensure that there are steps in place so that it doesnt happen again,” said Kersten Johnson-Struempler, Senior Director of Secondary Education for the Anchorage School District.
Struempler would not give a timeline for the districts investigation but said it had begun over the weekend after an article critical of the disqualification call became widely circulated.
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Lauren Langford, a lifelong swimmer, Director of YMCA Aquatics and coach for West High Schools swim team published an account of the incident on Medium.com over the weekend.
West High School coach Lauren Langford first publicized the story in a blog post and thinks the girls are being held to a double standard.
Langford believes the student-athlete, 17-year-old Breckynn Willis, is being punished for her athletic physique – a combination of genetics and years of training to gain strength and speed.
“The rest of her team was wearing the same uniform, and she was the only one disqualified,” Langford said. “It is my opinion that she has been targeted and singled out over the course of the last year.”
During the 2018-19 school year, Willis younger sister, Dreamer Kowatch, who also a competitive swimmer, had a run-in with the same referee. The ref openly critiqued her suits fit during a meet.
The girls mother, Meagan Kowatch, told KTUU Monday that her fast-swimming daughters should be gaining attention for their performance and skill, not the fit of their swimsuits.
In August, the National Federation of State High School Associations notified coaches across the nation about a rule change that allows for the disqualification of an athlete if a uniform is not within guidelines, and a change of attire would delay the race.
Breckynns disqualification came after shed won, and before shed go on to compete with her team in a relay event in the same swimsuit that same night. The Dimond girls won that match with no penalties.
The Alaska School Activities Association published the NHFS letter and accompanying resources on its website, including an illustrated graphic showing appropriate and inappropriate suit coverage for male and female athletes, under whats known as the “modesty rule.”
The national organization sets the rules, and then local sporting associations have some flexibility to determine implementation according to community standards.
“There is a growing trend in high school swimming and diving of athletes wearing training and competitive suits in a manner that contradicts with the intention of their original design and manufacture,” NFHS Executive Director Karissa Niehoff wrote in a memo dated August 7. “Specifically, suits are being worn in such a way as to expose the athletes buttocks. This issue is not gender-specific and is occurring in various states across the country.”
The guidelines state suits must “be worn in the appropriate size as dictated by that manufacturers specifications for the athletes body type and shall remain unaltered. Boys shall wear suits which cover the buttocks, and girls shall wear suits which cover the buttocks and breasts.”
“Before these suits even get on an athletes body, the cut of them isnt in compliance with the modesty rule,” Langford said, demonstrating the angle v-shape on the backside of womens competitive suits sold by most manufacturers.
On Monday, the Anchorage School District confirmed the suit Willis was wearing was an approved suit considered to be in compliance with the rules, and that it had been used without incident at three prior meets this season.
Meagan Kowatch said the disqualification did not come until the main referee in charge Friday night had to leave halfway through the meet, putting a different referee in charge for the remainder of the evening.
The first thing that the referee did, according to Kowatch, was disqualify Wilils. She also happened to be the same referee who had embarrassed the younger sibling last year, she said.
“We would encourage officials to give the benefit of the doubt to the athlete,” Alaska School Athletic Association Executive Director Billy Strickland said in a phone interview Monday, though he admitted determining whether a suit is being worn in compliance with the rules is subjective.
Breckyn Willis coach DeWayne Ingram says that Willis determination and hard work over the years has built her success.
“What were attempting to do is try to define the parameters of the problem that quite frankly has been brought to us by adults who are uncomfortable being on deck with young men and young ladies who are not appropriately covered,” Sandy Searcy, Director of Sports for the National Federation of State High School Associations, told KTUU from her Indiana office.
The goal is not to have officials focus on the backsides of male or female swimmers, but provide guidance for compliance, Searcy said.
Still, Langford said she believes the renewed emphasis on modesty is well-intended but has gotten out of hand, especially when the rule itself is vague.
“It does not state that that coverage of the buttocks needs to be full coverage,” Langford said. “Thats something that we have gotten carried away with. If we are going to police this rule and if its not a thong or a g-string then it is in compliance.”
Kowatch wants her daughters disqualification overturned, her victory restored, and the referee theyve had conflicts with to stay away from officiating her girls races.
“Were really concerned about the allegations that were brought forward, Johnson-Struempler said, “but I think that we still have to complete our investigation before we can really land on one side or the other of the issue. She added that female athletes “shouldnt be judged by their [sic] body when they are out there as an athlete, they should be judged on the merit of their play.”
The disqualification was contested at the meet and drew immediate criticism. From the Anchorage Daily News:
Annette Rohde, who was working as an official at the dual meet between Dimond and Chugiak, said she froze in disbelief when she saw the disqualification decision by the meet referee, who has not been officially identified.
I told her, I need to know how youre defining this, because this is going to blow up, Rohde said.
She said the official replied that the bottom of the girls suit was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.
South High coach Cliff Murray, a longtime swim coach, said at the beginning of the season that Anchorage high school coaches were told that as far as the buttocks region goes, you should not be showing any part of the intergluteal cleft. There is no reference to the intergluteal cleft in the national rulebook.
The Anchorage School District released a statement yesterday announcing an investigation into the disqualification:
ASD is reviewing the disqualification of a student athlete during the September 6 Dimond High School home swim meet. The disqualification appears to stem from a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms. Immediately after the disqualification, the Dimond HS swim coach filed a protest with the official to contest the decision. The coachs protest was quickly denied at the meet, and we expect the coach to appeal. We intend to gather all the facts surrounding the disqualification so we can accurately address the matter with officials and take appropriate action to ensure fair, equitable competition and consistent application of the rules for this athlete and her peers.
Lauren Langford, a swim coach at a nearby high school, published a post on Medium about the incident. She said that the swimmer in question was wearing a school-issued swimsuit, the same suit that all the other girls on the team were wearing, none of whom received a violation. Langford called out racist motives as well, saying that the swimmers sisters had been similarly targeted:
This young lady and her sisters are being targeted not for the way they wear their suits but for the way those suits fit their curvier, fuller figured bodies. The issue has come so far unraveled that parents in opposition of these girls and their swimwear have been heard saying that for the sake of their sons, the mother of these young ladies should cover up her daughters. Talk about thrusting modern women back into an era in which men were never held accountable for their behavior! […] Some will argue this has nothing to do with race, but when the same officials targeting these girls have been heard saying that so-and-so white girl also shows too much skin but has never been disqualified for a similar violation the racial facet of this issue cannot be ignored.
Last September, according to a timeline of events provided by the Anchorage School District, a swim team parent went so far as to take photos of the teenager at a swim meet and then send them to others to provide evidence of inappropriate swim attire. The school district said that the assistant principal indicated to the parent who took the photographs that it was not permissible for him to take pictures of others children and that he should stop immediately.
Langford told the Washington Post that the swimmer has even been accused of hiking her swimsuit up on purpose. The fact that shes been told shes intentionally trying to draw this sexual attention has really crushed her.
According to KTUU, the swimmers mother wants her daughters disqualification overturned, her victory restored, and the referee theyve had conflicts with to stay away from officiating her girls races.
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