The decision to disqualify a student swimmer after a referee deemed her school-issued suit too revealing has been overturned by Alaska’s governing body for high school sports.
Dimond High School swimmer Brecklynn Willis was wearing the exact same swimsuit as her teammates when she bested rivals from Chugiak High School during a dual meet Friday afternoon.
Her victory however, was short lived – after the 17-year-old emerged from the pool, she was told she would be stripped of her win for violating the sport’s modesty rule.
The referee explained that because Willis’ suit exposed her backside, she was not entitled to win the race – regardless of how well she swam. The move immediately sparked backlash within the swimming community and the Anchorage School District announced Tuesday it would appeal the decision.
Through a prepared statement obtained by KTUU, school officials said that the Dimond High swimmer “was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body.”
“We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape,” it said. “This disqualification was heavy-handed and unnecessary.”
Less than an hour later, the Alaska School Activities Association announced it agreed with district, concluding that rules require a coach be notified of a violation before the heat or race begins.
“All evidence gathered, including the statement provided by the official, indicated the official did not notify the coach prior to disqualifying the student,” the ASAA said in a statement.
“ASAA has determined the disqualification was the result of misapplication of the rule and as a result is being overturned.”
The association added that “all team and individual points shall be restored to both the individual swimmer and the Dimond High School Swim team.”
The district also called for the referee, identified as Jill Blackstone, to be stripped of her credentials due to what they described as a pattern of unfair treatment. The ASAA declined to make a determination on whether the official wrongfully targeted Willis and her sister, who has also made complaints against Blackstone.
Lifelong swimmer Lauren Langford, director of YMCA Aquatics and coach for West high School, wrote in a viral Medium post that the cut of swimsuits are “not in compliance even before they get on the body of a simmer.”
“If lots of girls are wearing them, and they’re cut in a way that is ‘immodest,’ why has only one swimmer been disqualified?” she continued. “This young lady and her sisters are being targeted not for the way they wear their suits but for the way those suits fit their curvier, fuller figured bodies.”
In a follow-up interview with the Washington Post she speculated that race could also be a factor.
“All of these girls wearing suits the same way and the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features,” Langford said.
Willis is one of the top female swimmers in Alaska and nabbed state titles in the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly last year.