Derrick Hayes, the anchor of the Columbus High School 4×100 relay team had just crossed the finish line when he raised his finger to the sky – thanking the Lord for winning the race that would send them to the state finals.
But a judge with the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school athletics in Texas, ruled that the gesture was a violation of the taunting rule – and the Cardinals were stripped of their victory.
“I think it’s a travesty,” said K.C. Hayes, Derrick’s dad. “It’s a sad deal. Those kids worked hard.”
Robert O’Connor, the superintendent of the school district filed an appeal, but so far the UIL is standing by its rule.
“It’s a harsh consequence for what some people may deem a small gesture,” O’Connor told MyFoxHouston.com. “The rule states no celebratory gestures including raising your arms.”
The team was officially disqualified for “unsporting conduct.”
The UIL said they do not have a rule banning religious expression – it’s just a matter of where you express it.
“You can do whatever you want to in terms of prayer, kneeling or whatever you want to once you get out of the competition area. You just can’t do it in the competition area. It goes back to the taunting rule. I can’t taunt my opponent,” the superintendent told MyFoxHouston.com.
The Texas Tribune reports that Gov. Rick Perry has called for the UIL to investigate the incident and take whatever action is necessary to ensure religious freedom and expression is protected at competitions.
In his letter, Perry said he would “not tolerate the suppression of religious freedom anywhere.”
“It is unconscionable that a student athlete could be punished for an expression of religious faith or that an act of faith could disqualify an athlete in a UIL competition,” Perry told the newspaper.