MARYLAND – For Je’Nan Hayes, the big day in the Regional High School Championship game was awaited with passion to finalize a successful season for her Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Participating in the first 24 games, she did not imagine that she would be denied the right to participate in the big game due to her hijab.
“I was sad, angered, it was just a lot of emotions,” Hayes was quoted by PTI news agency on March 18.
The game, held last March 3, ended up with her team losing the final game 51-36 to Oxon Hill.
Hayes’ coach, Donita Adams, was informed just before the game of a rarely enforced rule requiring “documented evidence” that Hayes needs to cover her head for religious reasons.
“We’ve never been informed of this rule,” Adams told CBS Baltimore. Her coach had no choice but to leave her on the bench.
“I didn’t want to look at her and explain to her why she couldn’t play,” Adams said.
After the game, Adams told Hayes that she did not participate in the game due to her hijab. The young Muslim player burst into tears.
“I felt discriminated against, and I didn’t feel good at all,” Hayes said.
“If it was some reason like my shirt wasn’t the right color or whatever, then I’d be like, ‘Okay.’ But because of my religion it took it to a whole different level, and I just felt that it was not right at all.”
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Maryland called for changes with Zainab Chaudry of CAIR saying, “I’d like to think the court has not played a role since we have seen a rise in discrimination.”
After the game, the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association issued a statement, saying, “High school athletics in Maryland has a strong and stable tradition of providing safe, meaningful and equitable participation for students.”
“Unfortunately, the officials made a strict interpretation of the National Federation of State High Schools playing rules for basketball instead of the spirit of the rule designed to ensure safety and competitive fairness,” it said.
“There should have been no denial of participation and we are committed to working with the school and the family to ensure this does not happen again,” the statement said.