Alaska’s Anchorage School District is investigating the disqualification of 17-year-old female swimmer Breckynn Willis from a race she won Friday night over the fit of her suit, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
After winning the 100 free for Dimond High School, an official told Willis she was disqualified because her “swimsuit was exposing too much of her buttocks,” according to the Post. Willis, a multi-time state champion, was wearing a suit issued to her by the school, and her coach filed a protest with the official that was denied.
The call has drawn allegation of sexism, and some of racism, among the community. Lauren Langford, a coach at another local high school, told the Post that she believed that Willis being a minority race played a role in the DQ — all the girls on her team were wearing the suit, but only one swimmer was called for it. Last year, the same official had approached Willis’ younger sister about the fit of her suit as well, according to NBC affiliate KTUU.
“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” Langford said. “And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.” The official who made the call has not been identified, but Annette Rohde, another official working the meet, told the Anchorage Daily News that she was shocked by her colleague’s decision: “I told her, ‘I need to know how you’re defining this, because this is going to blow up,'” Rohde said.
This wasn’t the first time Breckynn had been singled-out, either. Last year, a parent “took a photo of her backside” and shared it with other parents to point out the way female athletes were wearing their suits. The swimmer had been accused of intentional hiking her suit up.
Langford also penned a now-viral blog post on Medium.com about the situation.
The district expects the coach to appeal and released a statement Monday on the situation:
“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.
Because swimming and diving suit coverage rules and regulations have been an ongoing national discussion, the Dimond High School Swim Program has made deliberate efforts over the last year to ensure athletes’ uniforms meet the regulations prescribed by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation. This year, the Dimond swim team has purchased approved, team suits for every swimmer that meet the requirements put forth by the NFHS. The disqualified athlete was wearing the approved, school-issued suit during the race. In the first three meets this year, the Dimond swim team has had no disqualifications related to the wear of the swim uniform.
The NFHS provides the rules and regulations by which our athletic competitions are conducted. ASD contracts with local swim clubs to conduct swim meets across the District under the rules stipulated by the NFHS. Officials’ decisions are independent, guided by those rules. However, we expect all referees and officials to conduct themselves in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of every student athlete regardless of the young person’s gender, body shape, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or disability.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body for high school athletics, has standards for swimwear, recently updated for the 2019-2020 season. It states that “females shall wear suits which cover the buttocks and breasts. In August, the organization released a memo about suit coverage and circulated an illustrated example of appropriate attire.
“What we’re 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 NFHS, told KTUU.
“The goal is not to have officials focus on the backsides of male or female swimmers, but provide guidance for compliance,” KTUU said she added.