Maryland high school student not allowed to play in basketball game for wearing hijab

A Maryland high school student was blocked from playing a basketball game because she was wearing a hijab.

Je’Nan Hayes, a Watkins Mill High School student, was held out of the season’s final game after an official enforced a rule requiring "documented evidence" that her head covering was being worn for religious reasons.

Zainab Chaudry, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that the decision came as a shock to Hayes who had been allowed to play in all previous games that year. "She played 24 games and her team made it to the regional finals when they went to go play in Prince George's County," Chaudry said.

"She was benched. She was unable to play and her team lost," continued Chaudry "This is something that really has had a profound effect on her and I'm sure it's had an effect on many other young teens who wear the head scarf, or who wear religious headgear and were impacted by this story and who now feel discouraged about whether or not they would be able to play in sports or the athletics because of their religious beliefs."

On Thursday, Je’Nan and her family held a press conference with CAIR in hopes of getting the state headwear rule changed.

“I’m not discouraged whatsoever. You know, since this has gone so far I don't feel discouraged or angered I just have that hunger to succeed and I want to take this far,” Je’nan explained. 

"Clearly this is a rule that is not being applied across the board," Chaudry said. "It seems to be antiquated in the sense that it doesn't take into account that there are growing number of teens due to have religious diverse religious beliefs, who are qualified - clearly qualified to play different sports, and who are being barred from being able to compete."

When Je'Nan was told why she couldn't play she broke down crying and she explains what she was feeling during that moment, "It was just the sadness and disappointment, it wasn’t really anger at that. I was just speechless, I didn’t know what to do, so tears had just risen or whatnot." 

Je’Nan’s mother, Carlitta Foster- Hayes said, “For me to see her not being able to play in a playoff game, it took away a little bit of her dream of being able to show, you know, team spirit and I just think it’s very wrong.” 

Chaudry said Hayes didn't experience any issues playing in the previous games because Montgomery County referees were not aware of the NFHS policy. It wasn't until she played at Oxon Hill High in Prince George’s County on March 3 that the rule was enforced. Chaudry said that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association apologized for the incident.

Je’Nan, her family, and CAIR asked the state to drop the rule from their rule book, and The Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association issued a statement in response saying,"High school athletics in Maryland has a strong and stable tradition of providing safe, meaningful and equitable participation for students.  Unfortunately, the officials made a strict interpretation of the National Federation of State High Schools playing rules for basketball instead of the spirit of the rule designed to ensure safety and competitive fairness."

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