Durham teen says she was told to remove beads, had to cut braids off during softball game

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – On April 19, Hillside High School played against Jordan High School in softball. 

At the top of second inning, Sophomore Nicole Pyles ran out on the field for Hillside. 

“My hair is brought up [by an official] that they can’t see my number on the back of my jersey,” Pyles said. 

The 16-year-old said she was wearing box braids with beads. 

“I had a bun in my hair. Some of my teammates took two of the four bands and wrapped the bottom of my hair and stuffed it in my sports bra so I can go play,” Pyles said. 

However, a little later in the game, she said she was approached again by an official. 

“The umpire comes up to me and my coach and says, either you take the beads out or you can’t play because it’s a safety hazard,” Pyles recounted. 

She said she went back into the dugout and teammates had to cut her braids in order to take the beads out.   

She said it wasn’t an issue in previous games. 

“You embarrassed my child, and somebody is going to have to answer for that,” said her father, Julius Pyles. 

The family claims Nicole faced discrimination because of her hair style. 

CBS News report last year zeroed in on how many Black people report similar stories because of their hair. It has long been a source of contention in the workplace and other spaces. 

In January, Durham passed an ordinance like the CROWN Act which protects people from discrimination for race-based hairstyles including braids, locks twists, and knots. 

Durham Public Schools issued a statement on the matter: 

As reflected in our school board’s unanimous resolution in support of the CROWN Act, Durham Public Schools supports our students’ right to free expression and opposes unreasonable or biased restrictions on Black women’s hairstyles. 

On April 19 during a softball game against Jordan High, a Hillside High student-athlete was forced by a game official to choose to remove beads from her hair in accordance with National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules or not continue to participate in the contest. NFHS rules govern athletic competition; DPS board policies do not prohibit beads in hair. 

In its investigation of the incident, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has since found that the incident began when the base umpire noticed the hair beads when the runner got to third base. There was no intervention by any Jordan High staff member bringing the violation to the game officials’ attention. 

DPS supports our student-athletes and their right to self-expression in a manner befitting their culture, consistent with safety in training and competition. We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic. We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended. We frown on any rule or policy that promotes cultural insensitivity or does not reflect the ideals and principles of DPS and our employees. 

Moving forward, DPS will be diligently working to encourage the NCHSAA and NFHS to review their policies that on the surface seem fair but are culturally biased and inappropriate. The aim to make sure that all our athletes regardless of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation have the opportunity to compete without rules that target them based on any of these factors. 

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association told CBS 17 in an email that wearing hair beads is prohibited.  

It also released a statement: 

“The NCHSAA is aware of the report that a young lady at Hillside High School cut her hair to remove hair beads in order to stay in the game against Jordan High School on April 19, 2021. The NCHSAA is a member of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) which is the organization that helps provide uniform playing rules for high school athletics across the nation. As a member of the NFHS, the NCHSAA follows all NFHS playing rules and regulations, including Softball rule 3-2-5 which states that ‘Plastic visors, bandannas and hair-beads are prohibited.’ 

This is not a new rule and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified as supported by NFHS Rule. Further, according to NFHS Softball Rule 3-5-1, prior to the start of a contest, it is the responsibility of each coach to verify to the plate umpire that all his or her players are legally equipped, and that players and equipment are in compliance with all NFHS rules.  

We empathize with the student athlete and her experience. It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred. The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them prior to participating in any athletic contest.” 

“I want an apology from the whole system,” Julius said. 

 The family is also asking for DPS and the NCHSAA to pass policies to eradicate anti-Black hair discrimination in schools. 

As of Thursday evening, they said they have not heard from DPS or the NCHSAA. 

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