On Friday, TheBlaze reported allegations that a high school student in Columbus, Texas, was disqualified for making a gesture of thanks to God as he crossed the finish line. While media widely reported that Derrick Hayes’ purportedly spirit-filled action led to his team’s inevitable loss, the school district and a sports authority have come forward with a very different story. And the family, too, is now denying that religious liberty was trampled by officials’ decision to disqualify the team.
Following apparent suggestions by K.C. Hayes, Derrick’s father, that his son was dismissed on religious grounds, the University Interscholastic League of Texas (UIL) apparently investigated the incident. The athletic group, an institution that is part of the The University of Texas at Austin, examined footage and spoke with several eyewitnesses.
The group’s conclusion? Derrick’s team was disqualified “due to the student-athlete behaving disrespectfully, in the opinion of the local meet referee.” The UIL found that the action does not appear to have been taken “as a result of the student-athlete expressing religious beliefs.”
Furor unfolded after the student-athlete reportedly raised his hand and gestured at the end of his 4X100-meter relay on April 27, 2013. When a meet official approached Derrick to inform him of a potential disqualification if he continued to violate the rules with gestures, the individual felt that the athlete was, in turn, disrespectful. It was the reaction and not the gesture that apparently led to the disqualification. Here’s how Yahoo! Sport recaps the scenario:
According to the UIL’s … however, Hayes crossed the finish line and pointed not above his head but straight out in front of him. That brought a red flag from a track official, which signaled that he needed to review what had happened. Hayes and the official then had a verbal exchange, and the runner was disqualified. Harrison told Yahoo! Sports he spoke with Hayes, his father, and the official who made the ruling.
“At no point during the discussions surrounding the disqualification at the meet was the issue of religious expression raised by any parties,” the UIL statement reads, noting that coaches were told to speak with student-athletes before races to ensure that they were aware of the rules on gestures.
As noted, this account is different from comments the media reported regarding K.C. Hayes, Derrick’s father (or, at the least, the framing of those comments). As TheBlaze previously reported, the frustrated father insinuated that Derrick was punished for offering up a simple praise to God while crossing the finish line. Here’s how WFAA-TV reported the story:
As he was crossing the finish line, Derrick Hayes pointed up to the sky. His father believes he was giving thanks in a gesture to God.
“It was a reaction,” father KC Hayes said. “I mean you’re brought up your whole life that God gives you good things, you’re blessed.”
Columbus ISD Superintendent Robert O’Connor said the team had won the race by seven yards. It was their fastest race of the year.
Though O’Connor cannot say why the student pointed, he says it was against the rules that govern high school sports. The rules state there can be no excessive act of celebration, which includes raising the hands.
Watch the father’s comments, below:
In the UIL release, K.C. and his wife Stacey, though, took a different stance in the wake of the controversy. The organization claims that the parents submitted a letter after the incident claiming that Derrick’s religious freedoms were not hampered.
“In looking back at the conclusion of the 4×100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner,” the letter read. “It was not our intention to force the issue that our son’s religious freedom was violated. Nor do we feel that way now. After discussing this with our son, we have come to the conclusion that his religious rights were not violated.”
Derrick, too, has spoken out against the initial story. He flatly denies previous claims that he was raising his hand to the Lord in praise. In the student-athlete’s letter, he wrote, “Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4×100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory.” He concluded by noting that he does not believe that his “religious rights or freedoms were violated.”
In speaking with Yahoo! Sports, UIL director Jamey Harrison clarified the events that unfolded and did not blame the family for the media outrage that followed what seemed to be an egregious religious freedom infraction. Yahoo! has more:
“This is Texas,” Harrison said. “It is quite OK to thank our Father. If this young man was disqualified for religious reasons, we would have had a problem. That is not the case.”
Harrison said the judge at the meet is a 30-year veteran of the sport and is a “good, Christian man.”
“He would never disqualify for an act of faith,” Harrison said. “I have met him, I have talked to several people who know him. In the opinion of the official, [Hayes] was in violation of track rules. We don’t have a mechanism for overturning that.”
Harrison did not place blame on the Hayes family, saying, “They are very upset for the way this has been reported.” He called Derrick Hayes “a good young man.”
The Columbus Independent School District, too, claims that unsportsmanlike conduct and not religious fervor was at the center of the debate.
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