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Girls' Basketball BLM Shirts Spark Debate in Florida

Andy Berg

A girls’ high school basketball team in Florida was told they were not allowed to proceed with a plan to wear Black Lives Matters shirts during warmups preceding a recent playoff game.

Kyra Stauble of St. Augustine High School wore a Black Lives Matter shirt during warmups for 26 games this year. For the Yellow Jackets’ playoff game against Fort Walton, the winner of which would head to the state championship, the entire team agreed to wear the shirts in a show of unity.

“I asked them, ‘Are y'all OK with doing this?’” Stauble told The St. Augustine Record. “I needed all of them to be OK with it — because if one of them didn't want to do it, I wouldn’t have done it. But the whole team was supportive.”

Before going ahead with the plan, Stauble, who is white, went to St. Augustine principal DeArmas Graham and asked for permission to wear the shirts. Graham, who is Black, said he needed to check with St. Johns County School District and with athletic director Serge Lipovetsky, who is white.

Prior to game day, Stauble was told that the Yellow Jackets could not wear the shirts, as they presented a political statement and were not permissible attire for an athletic contest.

The players did not wear the shirts and went on to beat the Fort Walton Vikings, advancing to the state championship.

Stauble, however, still wants an answer as to why she was allowed to wear a BLM shirt for 26 games without pushback. The administration says the reason is related to school district rules.

"It is a St. Johns County School District policy that the student-athletes cannot wear political statements on the court," Lipovetsky said last Friday via text message.

St. Augustine High Principal Graham's reasoning differed from Lipovetsky's. 

"School staff members cannot wear any political statements. Students have the flexibility to wear that during the school day," Graham said. "However, if they're involved in sports, the St. John's County policy is, we cannot change the uniform.

"So the reasoning was not a political statement; it's not their uniform. So the students, and coaches must be in St. Augustine High School uniform, and that was not an approved uniform for us."

St. Johns County athletic director had a different reason. 

“My understanding is this was not a school-approved uniform,” Abbatinozzi said. “We’re going to make sure that our uniforms and our jerseys are school-approved.”

Abbitinozzi later clarified his statements in a follow-up email with The St. Augustine Record.

"It was communicated to our principals and athletic directors prior to the start of our athletic seasons that our teams should only be wearing school approved athletic apparel with regards to official uniforms worn when on the courts, fields etc. representing their respective schools during athletic contests.

"School Board Rule 4.06 and 4.09 denotes that Athletics and Extra-Curricular programs operate under the direct supervision and control of the Principal. This also aligns with multiple FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) policies 2.5.1, 3.5.1, and 6.1.1(d) as well, referencing all aspects of the interscholastic athletic programs.

"This certainly includes the decisions encompassing team uniforms selected, purchased and provided to athletes. FHSAA 6.1.2 also allows delegation of these responsibilities to an administrative designee who would be the Athletic Director.

"That said, as we discussed, it was made clear from the Principal and Athletic Director that these were created by a parent and were not approved by either of them as part of the official uniform."

A text message exchange between St. Augustine athletic trainer Tara Shelley and Terry Sapp, the school ditrict’s high school athletics coordinator, hints at the district’s mindset toward the BLM shirts. 

Shelly shared the texts with The St. Augustine Record.

Shelley, who shared the texts with The Record, reached out to Sapp on Friday morning to ask about the policy. 

"We do not allow students to wear shirts that have a political statement while representing their school and school district," Sapp texted.

Later that day, Shelley responded to Sapp, explaining how Lipovetsky has handled enforcement of the policy.

“Ok, thank you," Shelley wrote to Sapp. "But just so you know, Serge has screwed up because Kyra has been wearing it all season and nothing has been said until now."

"Serge told the whole athletic department at the beginning of the year that we can't force them/influence them one way or the other concerning kneeling or wearing statement clothing while warming up," she wrote to Sapp. "He did not communicate clearly what the policy is."

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