Track coaches say state rule banning hair beads is unfair to students

Guidance prohibiting student track athletes from wearing beads in their hair has taken a lot of coaches by surprise. They say the rules obviously target Black students.

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Guidance circulated Sunday night specifically states that hair beads for student track athletes are not allowed, which many coaches feel targets black students.

To get a waiver for hair beads as part of a student’s culture, the school athletic director has to send a special accommodation request to NYSPHSAA, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, along with a name and student picture. If approved, coaches must carry that document to all meets.

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Many coaches argue this will make athletes of color feel different — far from the inclusion they want to promote on their teams.

Coaches also point out that athletes are not questioned about wearing bows with school colors.

"The difference from my perspective is that mostly kids who are wearing this are white athletes," said Mohonasen Track Head Coach Bill Sherman, holding up an orange and black bow. "And it’s mostly black athletes who are wearing hair beads. And I can’t come to any other conclusion than that and we want it to stop."

Coaches like Bill Sherman at Mohonasen and Lavaughn Garland at Colonie are fiercely protective of their athletes.

"Unfortunately one of our students was a victim of this," said Coach Garland. "They were running and they had hair cuffs in their hair and they were told that they need to remove them from their hair or else they would be taken out for them. And that’s why I’m really trying to make sure I protect all my athletes."

Mohonasen senior Zionna Perez-Tucker is a top sprinter, a NYS champion in 55 and 300 meter dashes.

"Comforting other teammates or comforting other girls who had to face this– one of our last meets, I’ve seen girls who had to rush to help another girl take all the beads out of her hair," said Perez-Tucker. "That’s frustrating and really upsetting."

Coaches are inviting all players to wear hair beads at the track meet on Wednesday afternoon at Mohonasen to take a stand.

NYSPHSAA’s executive director, Dr. Robert Zayas said this is not a new rule, and that hair beads could be a safety concern and have never been permitted.

He also said they have never denied a waiver request, adding that they are open to changing the rule, but it must be driven by their membership.

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Hear two coaches explain how they feel the rule is affecting some of their players by watching the video of Kumi Tucker’s story.