High school softball rule that prohibited hair beads, required approval for religious head coverings removed from books

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Back in April, Hillside High School student-athlete Nicole Pyles was sporting her box braids with beads during a softball game and was reprimanded by an umpire, causing teammates to have to cut her hair.

“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 in an interview with CBS 17 in May.

Now, thanks to a rule revision, Pyles can wear her beads to protect her hair, just as many others now can, along with those who wear head coverings for religious reasons.

These changes along with six other rules revisions were recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Softball Rules Committee at its June 14-16 meeting held in a virtual format and subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

In Rule 3-2-5b, language that previously prohibited hard items to control the hair, including beads, has been removed from the rules book.

The committee says it did not believe that the use of hard items, such as beads, presented an injury risk to other players. In contrast, the prohibition of such items has been interpreted as adversely affecting one’s cultural background.

In addition, head coverings worn for religious reasons in high school softball no longer will require prior approval from the respective state high school association.

The revised Rule 3-2-5c states that “head coverings worn for religious reasons must be made of non-abrasive, soft materials and must fit securely so that it is unlikely to come off during play. Head coverings worn for medical reasons require state association approval.”

The Softball Rules Committee is the seventh NFHS sports rules committee that has modified rules this year related to religious and cultural backgrounds.

In addition to softball, participants in volleyball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, and spirit will be permitted to wear religious headwear without prior approval from their respective state association.

In swimming and diving, for religious reasons, competitors will be able to wear suits that provide full-body coverage without obtaining prior state association authorization.

“The NFHS, in its effort to be a learning organization and one that is founded on the basis of inclusion, is striving to work with our young participants in our efforts to celebrate the beautiful diversity that continues to increase,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, in a recent The NFHS Voice. “We are excited about that and want to support that. And while we will always strive to keep kids safe and keep games being played the way they were designed to be played, we do want to recognize the importance of a young person’s identity.”

The committee made other changes that affected gameplay rules in high school softball. Read them here.

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