When Bureaucrats Do Something Shameful, They Always Claim It Is Their Duty

When the Rules Run Up Against Faith
Prep Athlete Wearing Muslim Clothing Disqualified From Track Meet

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008; A01
Juashaunna Kelly, a Theodore Roosevelt High School senior who has the fastest mile and two-mile times of any girls’ runner in the District this winter, was disqualified from Saturday’s Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet after officials said her Muslim clothing violated national competition rules.
Kelly was wearing the same uniform she has worn for the past three seasons while running for Theodore Roosevelt‘s cross-country and track teams: a custom-made, one-piece blue and orange unitard that covers her head, arms, torso and legs. On top of the unitard, Kelly wore the same orange and blue T-shirt and shorts as her teammates.
The outfit allows her to compete while complying with her Muslim faith, which forbids displaying any skin other than her face and hands.
. . . Meet director Tom Rogers said Kelly’s uniform violated rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which sanctioned the event, by not being “a single-solid color and unadorned, except for a single school name or insignia no more than 2 1/4 inches.”Rogers then told Kelly she was disqualified. Kelly dropped to her knees and began sobbing.
. . . “Every sport has uniform rules. It has nothing to do with religious discrimination,” Rogers said.
. . . Kelly, whose 1,600 time of 5 minutes 17.49 seconds and 3,200 time of 12:00.81 are the fastest of any District girl, was hoping to run a time fast enough at the Montgomery Invitational to qualify for the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York on Feb. 8-9. Bowden said Roosevelt has no other meets scheduled that would allow her to qualify for the event, which attracts dozens of college recruiters.
Martinets have been with us ever since there have been rules and forms to which they can demand exact conformity. Meet Director Tom Rogers is a martinet. They all have one thing in common. They are small men, exhibiting the inflated ego of the small man when he is in charge.
There are so many ways this fools dilemma might have been easily solved, that they are beyond listing. In a time when real issues of drug abuse and cheating assail amateur and professional sports, the need for a Tom Rogers embarrassing and disqualifying a young woman athlete for no more reason than a uniform-code variation seems beyond the pale.
There was a time when District sports officials were interested in encouraging and promoting sportsmanship and sports excellence. Apparently Tom Rogers’ ambitions in the National Federation of State High School Associations outrun his allegiance to the District he represents and the top girl runner in that District.
Even if his egotism costs her a college scholarship.
It seems Juashaunna Kelly has finally been outrun–not in competition, but by a petty bureaucrat who ought to be taken out of the race.

3 thoughts on “When Bureaucrats Do Something Shameful, They Always Claim It Is Their Duty

  1. Thought you might be interested in the truth about this incident … you have no idea how much your small-minded and irresponsible treatment of this event has hurt the people involved. I wonder if you’ll have the balls to print these. Martinet, my ass. You should BE as good a man as Tom Rogers. Press release by the NFHS: nfhs.org/web/2008/01/nfhs_responds_to_maryland_track.aspx and post from another column by someone who actually KNOWS the person you are calling such nasty names. I have watched the vitriolic hatred and threats escalate during the past couple of days on the talk back lines, most of it directed toward the meet director and Ms. Kelly. I’ve about reached the end of my goodwill toward my fellow man (and that takes a lot, I promise you) and I would like, once and for all, to post this message to everyone who plans to say something on this or any other comment line. PLEASE READ THIS IN ITS ENTIRETY BEFORE YOU POST.
    I have known Tom Rogers personally for many years. He is a good friend, a coaching colleague and one of the most decent individuals I’ve ever known. Above all else, he is a champion for young people. As a teacher and coach for many years, he has been a mentor to many, going so far as to get them admission into college when their own parents couldn’t be bothered. He has coached black, white, Asian, and yes, Muslim students and he counts a lot of these runners – many long graduated – as personal friends. He took a father-like role with the young woman in the hejab officiating at the Montgomery Invitational after the passing of her own dad several years ago. He attended her wedding and speaks to her frequently. I’m not sure if she is aware of this whole mess, but I know that she would be appalled at the baseless charges being levied at Mr. Rogers.
    There is not a bigoted bone in this man’s body, and yet he has been slandered and threatened as a result of this incident. He confided to me earlier today that part of what angers and hurts him the most is that this 17-year old girl has had to endure the same kind of baseless insinuations and accusations as he has. He understands that her mother and coach want the best for her, but is saddened by what has happened as a result of that.
    Now if anyone will bother to read this, here is the truth about what happened. This is not hearsay. I was there, and I witnessed everything.
    The Montgomery invitational meet is a NFHS-sanctioned meet. This means that in order for any race results to be valid, the meet must be run according to the rules set up by the NFHS. I invite anyone at this point to please check out this link to view the rule: it can be seen at the end of the row for “Track and Cross Country”. nfhs.org/core/ContentManager/uploads/PDFs/Sports/NFHS_UNIFORM_RULES_SUMMARY.pdf
    Simple, right?
    The clerk in the bullpen let Ms. Kelly know that her uniform was illegal. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HER HOOD. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT SHE WAS MUSLIM. It had to do with the fact that the unitard she wore as an undergarment was visible and was bi-colored, a clear infraction of the NFHS rule. (I keep reading that she has run in this uniform for three or more years without anyone saying anything to her: in an earlier interview she said she got the unitard custom made at the beginning of her junior year. That would be last year (she is a senior this year). If she ran last year in it, she was lucky enough to slip by the officials – at a meet of over 2,000 competitors, not every infraction is caught (just as there were probably infractions this year that slipped through the cracks. If we run a red light and there are no police nearby, we’re lucky. If we get caught doing the same thing the next time, we would be wise not to complain that “last time no one said anything.”)
    The Meet Official was contacted by the clerk and verified that in fact the unitard was illegal in this meet. He informed Ms. Kelly that she could put a plain colored tee (hundreds of which were available throughout the arena) over the unitard, and then her uniform singlet, and no problems with disqualification would result. (Incidentally, Ms. Kelly, in an interview on WUSA this evening, said, (and I quote): “They told me that [about the tee shirt] too, but I was already crying, and I just didn’t feel like doing anything else after that.”
    Her coach took matters up with the Meet Official and, when the official wouldn’t back down at the verbal diatribe he was subjected to, Coach Bowden PUNCHED THE MEET OFFICIAL IN THE FACE. It was absolutely NOT a polite shove as he describes in the interview. Police were on the scene and asked if the official wished to press charges. THE OFFICIAL DECLINED, instead choosing to speak further with the coach outside of the arena. At the end of this conversation, the two shook hands. The meet official went back to his duties, assuming things were finished. The coach went directly to the Washington Post reporter covering the meet and began crying religious discrimination.
    In the meantime, the Meet Director, Tom Rogers, had been called and arrived on the scene where Ms. Kelly’s mother introduced herself as her mother and assistant coach. Mr. Rogers explained the ruling to the mother no less than four times, but she refused to listen. Mr. Rogers DID NOT make the disqualification ruling – the official had already made it before Tom was even called to the scene of the incident.
    If blame must be given to someone (and there has been a lot thrown around carelessly), then here it is: If Ms. Kelly did not choose to “do anything else” at the point of being informed of her options, then it is on her, NOT on the official, the meet director, nor anyone else, that she didn’t race. There was no bigotry or nastiness on anyone’s part except for Ms. Kelly’s coach (who, in my mind should have been arrested and removed from the arena promptly for assaulting an official) and her mother who was bitterly complaining about religiously discrimination so loudly that she wasn’t even willing to listen to any explanations.
    This is the truth, so help me God – I was there, I saw it, and I have nothing to gain by giving out this information. I do so with the hope, however that some people who read it might pass it along to the other talkback sites in the name of fairness to everyone involved.”

  2. Think you might owe the principals involved an apology …

    Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008 GAZETTE.NET
    Officials: Religion not issue in runner’s exclusion
    Incident involving the color of a Muslim girl’s uniform ‘has
    been blown out of proportion,’ District administrator says
    by Chay Rao and Stephanie Siegel | Staff Writers
    Montgomery school officials recently came under fire for being insensitive and even racist after a Muslim girl was told she could not participate in a county track meet because of her uniform, which covered her head, arms and legs in accordance with Muslim customs.
    But according to Montgomery County Public Schools officials, religion had nothing to do with the ruling made by an event referee and MCPS employees had no authority to overrule the decision.
    ‘‘This has been a colossal misunderstanding,” said Kate Harrison, MCPS spokeswoman.
    Juashuanna Kelly, a senior at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, was told she could not run in the Jan. 12 Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet because the garment she wore did not conform to color standards. Kelly, who is Muslim, was wearing a half-blue and half-orange unitard and head covering under her track uniform.
    National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Indoor Track and Field guidelines state that a runner must wear a single-colored tracksuit under a school jersey — a rule to help identify runners at the finish line in case of close finishes.
    ‘‘The uniform rules are clearly stated within the rule book. … If she had worn a solid color, she would have been fine. It was something that could have been avoided early on,” said Becky Oakes, assistant director of NFHS. ‘‘No one wants the athlete DQ’d.”
    Kelly, who had worn the special uniform to other meets, including the Montgomery Invitational last year, had been granted a waiver for meets in Washington, according to Allen Chin, director of athletics for District of Columbia Public Schools.
    ‘‘I feel sorry for the young girl, but frankly, this is something that has been blown out of proportion,” Chin said.
    After being told she could participate if she wore a single-colored, long-sleeved T-shirt over the unitard, Kelly and her coach, Tony Bowden, decided to withdraw from the race, Harrison said. Kelly was not disqualified, according to Harrison.
    ‘‘Religion had no factor in the decision over whether she could participate,” she said.
    Bo Meyers, a hired official who is qualified as a ‘‘master referee” by USA Track and Field, the national governing body for track and field sports, made the ruling, Harrison said.
    Oakes said Kelly had time to make a change if she wanted. ‘‘Everything was handled properly by meet officials according to the rules,” she said.
    However, for many in the Muslim community, barring Kelly from the meet because of the colors of her unitard was the wrong decision.
    ‘‘The people who made this decision were very insensitive,” said Rashid Makhdoom, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Muslim Council, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Muslim interests and involvement in the county. ‘‘I think there should be some sensitivity training. There is some feeling that there might be some kind of race [discrimination] involved.”
    Harrison said training to make employees aware of cultural and religious differences is already required for school system employees; however, Meyers and other athletic officials are not considered MCPS employees.
    One MCPS employee who was criticized for the decision was meet director Tom Rogers, a track and field coach at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. Rogers was blamed by some for upholding the decision not to let Kelly participate.
    ‘‘There has been an enormous barrage of angry and even threatening letters,” Harrison said.
    But it was never Rogers’ role to say who was allowed to compete, she said.
    ‘‘His role was as an administrator, to take care of the business aspects,” Harrison said.
    Rogers was in charge of making sure the track and equipment was ready, sending out the invitations and hiring the officials, among other duties.
    Makhdoom believes an exception could have been made for Kelly.
    ‘‘She has sacrificed quite a bit of her religious beliefs and compromised to participate,” he said.
    ‘‘Our religious beliefs are such that women, especially, are not supposed to show the body. I would call it a compromise,” he said of the garment Kelly wore. While it covered her skin, it was still tighter than clothes traditional Muslim women wear, he said.
    The perception that Kelly was singled out for her religion is damaging for community relations between Muslims and others, he said.
    In years past, several runners have competed in the Montgomery Invitational wearing head coverings, including Shakira Raheem, who competed for Albert Einstein High School before graduating in 2007, and Fatima Abbas, who ran for Rogers at Walter Johnson before graduating in 1999.
    ‘‘The head covering itself was never a violation,” Rogers said. ‘‘Fatima ran with a hejab for four years, and she never had any problems.”
    He said there was another athlete, a boys hurdler from James Robinson High School in Virginia, who was not allowed to compete at the Montgomery Invitational this month because of uniform violations similar to Kelly’s.
    ‘‘The torso of [Kelly’s] undergarment was multicolored, which was the same problem that the kid from Robinson had,” Rogers said. ‘‘The implication was religious discrimination, but that was absolutely not the case. It is a very one-sided view that has been out there and that has been hurtful.”

    Maryland Community Newspapers Online

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