We’ve seen it a thousand times: an athlete scores a touchdown, hits a home run or wins a race and points skyward in celebration.
High school track runner Derrick Hayes did exactly that last weekend after finishing a race in first place. Unfortunately for Hayes, the move will cost his team both the victory and a shot at the Texas State Championship.
Hayes was the final runner on Columbus High School’s 4x100 relay team. As he crossed the finish line in first, Hayes pointed to the sky, an act that his father says was meant to show thankfulness to God for the victory. The problem is, Hayes’ gesture and others like it are considered excessive celebration according to Texas high school sport rules. Track meet officials convened after seeing Hayes’ celebration and unanimously decided that, according to state rules, the team was disqualified.
While Hayes' anger is understandable, Columbus Superintendant Robert O’Connell said that the rule does apply to his gesture.
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The University Interscholastic League (UIL) is responsible for handling the penalty. The UIL is saying the gesture was unsportsmanlike, and that there is no indication Hayes meant it in a religious way. The statement reads as follows:
At the Region IV Conference 3A Track & Field regional meet held on Saturday, April 27 at Texas A&M Kingsville, a relay team from Columbus High School was disqualified by local meet officials for an unsporting act at the conclusion of the boys 4 x100 meter relay.
The meet official indicated the athlete crossed the finish line and gestured upward with his arm and finger and behaved disrespectfully toward meet officials, in their opinion. In the judgment of the official, this was a violation of NFHS track & field rule 4-6-1. The regional meet referee concurred with this decision and the student was subsequently disqualified. There is no indication that the decision was made because of any religious expression. This was a judgment call, as are many decisions of meet officials in all activities.
According to NFHS rules, once the meet is concluded, the results become final. Neither the UIL nor NFHS have rules that prohibit religious expression.
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The UIL takes situations such as these very seriously, and is continuing to investigate the matter fully.