Rule change will affect athlete’s religious freedom

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE – The rule that forced Watkins Mill junior basketball player Je’Nan Hayes to sit out the Wolverines’ postseason game at Oxon Hill last month has been changed.

The 16-year-old Muslim wears a hijab because of her religion and had worn the garment all season long without opposition from game officials.

However, Hayes, a reserve who had already played in 24 games, could not participate in Watkins Mill’s regional championship contest against the Clippers on March 3 due to a rule that requires a state-approved waiver for religious garments.

“The rule is not clear as to what specific headgear should be worn or not be worn,” said Hayes.

Watkins Mill head coach Donita Adams said she was informed by her assistant coaches that Hayes would not be allowed to play that day and spoke to the head official moments prior to tipoff.

“We couldn’t talk in depth but I asked him what is this that I’m hearing that one of my players can’t play, can you please elaborate for me,” said Adams, “and then he told me pretty much everything that he told them, that she couldn’t play due to her headgear and not having documentation.”

Adams decided not to inform Hayes of the referee’s decision during the game but opted to explain the situation to her afterward.

“She didn’t play, we didn’t tell her until the end of the game,” said Adams.

Since being held out of the contest (which Oxon Hill won 51- 36), Hayes has been on a mission to overturn the rule.

Mission accomplished.

Andrew Warner, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, has reached out to Hayes. Warner sent a letter of apology.

Thanks to Hayes, Maryland student-athletes are no longer required to have a state-approved waiver for religious garments.

“In hindsight, they should have allowed her to play,” said Carlitta Foster-Hayes, Je’Nan’s mother. “This shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I am very proud of my daughter fighting for change for all.”



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