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Controversy erupts after Anchorage high school swimmer disqualified when suit rides up in back

2019-09-11

A high school swimmer in Alaska who handily won four meets was disqualified from one of them Friday for having a wedgie when she emerged from the pool.

The teen was in a suit of the school’s choosing, identical to her teammates’ swimsuits, and was experiencing a common issue — the suit riding up as the swimmer was concentrating on … well, swimming.

An unnamed, pearl-clutching referee ruled that regardless of how well the student swam, she was not entitled to win the race.

The swim coach at a neighboring high school, also within the Anchorage School District, is appealing the ruling Friday against Breckynn Willis, 17, who swam with Dimond High School in a meet against Chugiak High School, KTUU-TV reported.

“The rest of her team was wearing the same uniform, and she was the only one disqualified,” lifelong swimmer Lauren Langford, director of YMCA Aquatics and coach for West High School, told KTUU. “It is my opinion that she has been targeted and singled out over the course of the last year.”

Swimmers and coaches are protesting the ruling, especially since Willis had nothing to do with the choice of attire.

Langford also said those who agree with the referee have said things like, “the girls have done this on purpose, they were warned, they got what they deserved,” she told KTUU.

The cut of the suits are “not in compliance even before they get on the body of a swimmer,” she wrote in a post on Medium that went viral.

“Some of these brands are currently being used as team suits,” Langford wrote. “If lots of girls are wearing them, and they’re cut in a way that is “immodest,” why has only one swimmer been disqualified? 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.”

It goes far beyond this one competition, Langford noted. The girl had been targeted by another parent a year ago, who took photos of her backside without her knowledge or consent and circulated them via email as an illustration of immoral attire — again, with standard-issue, swimsuits approved for competition.

“What has been carried out on pool decks in Alaska in the last year is nothing short of racism, sexism, body shaming, and child abuse,” she wrote of the “vendetta” by a small group of people. “That no one has been sued, arrested, or tossed in jail boggles the mind.”

Racism also plays a role, Langford told The Washington Post.

“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” she told the newspaper. “And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.”

Willis has competed in 14 races so far this season, which started three weeks ago, the Anchorage Daily News said.

Meagan Kowatch, the mother of Breckynn and two other girls who are competitive swimmers, has asked for the official in question to be barred from judging her daughters’ meets, she told KTUU. She said the official had also called out one of her other daughters publicly in a previous meet about the fit of her suit.

Another official at the meet in question, Annette Rohde, told the Anchorage Daily News she “froze in disbelief” at the ruling, especially since she did not notice anything amiss, while the referee said it was patently obvious and she could see “butt cheek touching butt cheek.”

The Anchorage School District said Monday it was reviewing the ruling, calling it a “difference of opinion” but assuring the public that the district would gather all facts.

“We expect all referees and officials to conduct themselves in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of every student athlete regardless of the young person’s gender, body shape, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or disability,” the district said in a statement. “We owe it to our student athletes to provide a fair and consistent atmosphere in which they can train and compete to their fullest potential. ASD will not tolerate actions by its coaches, students, staff, or community members that discriminate, target, or otherwise create an unsafe or inequitable environment for its student athletes.”