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Tennessee HS Athletes Free to Wear Religious Headwear

Paul Steinbach

An addition to Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association bylaws allowing religious headwear to be worn at high school sports events in the state was approved unanimously by the association's legislative council on Thursday and goes into effect immediately.

Previously, TSSAA rules allowed for the wearing of religious headwear — including hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes — as long as a letter was sent to the high school association asking permission. According to TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress, the association never declined giving permission, but required permission to be sent.

As reported by The Tennessean of Nashville, the new bylaw addition states: "Religious headwear is permitted, provided it is not abrasive, hard, or dangerous to the participant and any other player, and must be attached in such a way it is highly unlikely to come off during play. Religious headwear does not need to comply with any of the color restrictions defined in applicable sport uniform codes.

"Religious headwear in wrestling must comply with the safety standards of the sport and be approved by the head coach and contest referee."

In September, Najah Aqeel, a Muslim high school volleyball player from Valor Prep, was not permitted to play in a volleyball match because she wore a hijab. In Aqeel's case, Valor Prep had not submitted a letter to the TSSAA.

“We are extremely excited that the legislative council voted unanimously to change this rule for student-athletes in Tennessee," Valor College Prep athletic director Cameron Hill said. "I am equally proud of the overwhelming amount of support from TSSAA member schools and administrators on this rule change.

"I am so proud of Najah Aqeel for her poise and maturity to brave this out during an already very difficult school year. For her to be able to do this with dignity and class shows a maturity beyond her years and I am thankful she is a part of the Valor Wildcat family.”

Hill was a certified volleyball official this past season. He told The Tennessean that the rule "was not taught to me or shown to me during my very brief training to become an official."

Hill said he had never worked on a crew that enforced this rule prior to when Aqeel was denied the ability to play.

"After the incident, an email was sent out to all officials reminding them of this rule and showing them where it can be found in the rule book," Hill said. "I do believe the official that enforced the rule was only doing their job. However, I do believe it could have been executed with more tact and care for the affected student-athlete involved."

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