CHS girls basketball player disqualified because of hair

By Paul Brubaker
Special to the News-Record

MAPLEWOOD — The South Orange Maplewood School District’s complaint about a girl being disqualified from a basketball game because of the way she was wearing her hair has been sent to the N.J. Division of Civil Rights.

The district filed a bias complaint with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association after a Columbia High School girls basketball player was disqualified for the first quarter of a game due to beads she was wearing in her hair.

“I was shocked when I learned that one of our very own student-athletes was subjected to the same discrimination that New Jersey’s CROWN Act was established to prevent. Despite the humiliation of a New Jersey high school wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks at a match in 2018, the widespread media coverage that followed, the passage of a state law, and changes made by the national organization that writes the rules for high school sports competition; we find ourselves back here again as we begin 2024,” said Kevin F. Gilbert, acting superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District.

“We have to stand up for our student-athletes and protect their ability to participate in athletics and activities as their best selves. That is why we are filing an official complaint of this bias incident with the state authorities who govern high school sports. It is evident by this incident that we still have a long way to go in making sure every referee, coach, administrator, and student-athlete understands that disqualifying student-athletes because of how they wear their hair is discrimination.”

During the game, the South Orange & Maplewood School District’s athletic director, Richard Porfido, spoke with the referee, citing 2022 rule changes made by the National Federal of State High School Associations (NFHS) including the permitting of hair adornments in all sports. The referee permitted the Columbia player to return to the game during the second quarter.

The NFHS rule changes came after the 2019 passage of New Jersey’s Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act. The law includes discrimination on the basis of how a person wears their hair as a form of racial discrimination. It was introduced after a high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks in order to compete in a match in 2018.

The SOMA district initially complained to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), which forwarded the complaint to the state Division of Civil Rights.

“We look forward to the outcome of this investigation and hope this moves everyone toward valuing the intent and purpose of the rule changes governing high school sports competition and New Jersey’s CROWN Act,” Gilbert said.