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Girls' Track Athletes Suspended After Sports Bra Petition

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Members of the Albany (N.Y.) High School girls’ track and field team received a suspension after promoting a petition to wear sports bras instead of shirts during practice.

As reported by the Times Union, the debate over whether the girls can wear sports bras without jerseys during practices began last week and has resulted in suspensions, disrupted the team’s season and soured the relationship among students, parents and school officials.

During a stretch of hot temperatures, members of the squad said they believed practicing wearing sports bras was appropriate since their male counterparts were allowed to go shirtless. Albany School District Athletic Director Ashley Chapple felt differently.

According to some of the athletes, Chapple asked girls in sports bras to leave practice last Thursday, and the athletes complied. Jordan Johnson, a standout sophomore sprinter for the Falcons, started a petition Thursday, and team members took a photo posing in their sports bras before leaving the school. That change.org petition showing support for the girls' stance garnered more than 2,500 signatures as of Tuesday, the Times Union reported.

“Support the albany high girls track team as we protest the gender biased dress code. The athletic administration staff is attempting to exclude us from our sport as a result of the misinterpretation of the dress code. We’re being punished for practicing in sports bras in the presence of male coaches, while the boys team was asked nicely to put shirts back on and was not punished.”

Later on Thursday, those same athletes showed up to watch a lacrosse game at the school. According to members of the team, three security guards and Chapple were waiting there and told them they could not attend. Subsequently, 13 members of the girls' track and field team were suspended on Friday. The Falcons, with just two female competitors remaining, did not score a point at a meet later that day.

Saturday, each suspended athlete received a hand-delivered letter authored by Chapple, laying out the suspensions. School officials held a meeting with team members — without allowing parents to attend — Monday afternoon. Twelve members of the team have been reinstated and were allowed to compete in a meet Wednesday.

The letters issued by Chapple stated the girls used vulgar language during their exchange at the lacrosse game. Johnson, Kayla Huba and Alexis Arango, all members of the track team, said no foul language was used.

"We were loud, but we did not swear," Arango said. "No one was cursing. We were loud because we were outside."

"No one was saying anything bad," Johnson said. "There may have been voices raised, but there was no vulgar language said."

Chapple has not responded to repeated attempts by the Times Union for comment. The school has funneled all questions to Ron Lesko, director of communications and operations for the school district. 

Ron Lesko, director of communications and operations for the school district, on Monday forwarded a statement from superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams to the Times Union regarding the suspensions:

“Members of the Albany High School girls’ track and field team served a suspension Friday due to inappropriate and disrespectful behavior directed toward an administrator. Their suspension was in no way related to wardrobe. It was entirely related to their inappropriate conduct, and in alignment with our Student Code of Conduct.

“We addressed the matter related to practice attire with male and female members of the Albany High track and field teams last week. The information communicated to both groups of student-athletes was the same — that their practice attire did not align with our Student Code of Conduct.

“As a result of Monday’s meeting, members of the girls’ track and field team have agreed to participate on the committee that reviews the Student Code of Conduct for next school year. That work will include a review of the sections related to student attire.”

"They didn't give us a reason why parents could not come in (for the Monday meeting)," Huba said. "I think it was because they didn't want them to hear what we had to say. … I think they just wanted us alone in there so they could silence us."

"At the end of the meeting, they were kind of rushing us out. There wasn't really an ending," Arango said.

Arango said Chapple spent roughly 60 minutes at a 90-minute practice session last Wednesday. She stated Chapple spoke with both Johnson and Ahriah Baynes, who were both practicing in sports bras, and told them would not be allowed to do so in the future.

"Wednesday, she confronted us about wearing sports bras and saying we couldn't (just) wear sports bras because we have male coaches," Johnson said. "She said that before and she said us working out is a distraction. ... We have to cover up because male coaches are around."

Related: Report: Rowan U. Needs to Address Gender Inequities

Related: Mizzou Student Disputes Rec Center Dress Code

Arango, who along with Huba said team members over the last three years have practiced in sports bras on hot days without incident, added that Chapple's attitude toward the girls' track team Wednesday was disrespectful.

Contrary to the released statement made by Adams, Arango and Huba both said that during Monday's meeting Albany principal Jodi Commerford stated the team members were suspended because of the sports bra and for attempting to attend the lacrosse game.

"She went back and forth between the sports bra and us showing up to the game," Arango said.

The letters sent home to each suspended athlete from Chapple stated in the final paragraph that each girl "poses a continuing danger to persons or property or an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic and athletic process."

Arango said the majority of the athletes suspended are on the school's honor roll academically. The girls' indoor track team carried a 93.1 average and was honored as a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Academic Team of Distinction.

"We're a danger to persons or property and an ongoing threat? That makes no sense at all," Arango said. 

"I found the language in the letter to be very disconcerting just for the fact they are saying my daughter is a danger to the school and to the team," Arango's mother, Rosario Balarin, said. "I find that incredibly disconcerting because I have never had any issues or challenges with her during her school career.

"The vibe I got when speaking with Miss Chapple was one of it being personal at this point with the girls [more] than professional. This is a very sad and unfortunate situation."

Huba says she believes the team was not punished for what occurred at the lacrosse game but for making a collective stand and starting a petition.

"I think it is because we tried to stand up for ourselves. [Chapple] just wants to be in the right. She doesn't want to hear what we have to say," Huba said. "That is why she wasn't listening to us and laughing through the entire meeting [Monday]. … She is not taking this seriously. … To me, this is all about power.

"She also claimed in her letter that we argued with her at practice, which is not true."

For Arango and Huba, both seniors, missing the Shenendehowa Invitational cost them chances to put up quality times for sectional qualification. Each posted their top times at the same event in 2021, the Times Union reported.

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