Columbus, Texas — A Texas track team has now lost the opportunity to advance to the state championships after officials disqualified the team on the account of one of their runners who, according to his father, thanked God as he crossed the finish line.
This past weekend, Derrick Hayes of the Columbus High School Mighty Cardinals “put his hand by his ear and … pointed to the heavens” as his team had just won the boys high school relay race at Texas A&M University. Superintendent Robert O’Connor states that the team won by seven yards and was their fastest so far this year.
However, O’Connor also advised that it is against the rules for any athlete to engage in “excessive celebration,” which includes raising one’s hands.
“I don’t think that the situation was technically a terrible scenario as far as his action, but the action did violate the context of the rule,” he told local television station WFAA.
Now, Hayes’ father is very disappointed in the decision to disqualify the team and says that it violates his son’s religious liberty.
“You cross a finish line and you’ve accomplished a goal, and within seconds it’s gone,” K.C. Hayes explained. “To see four kids — What does that tell them about the rest of their lives? You’re going to do what’s right, work extra hard and have it ripped away from you?”
He stated that the gesture was just natural.
“It was a reaction,” Hayes asserted. “I mean, you’re brought up your whole life that God gives you good things, you’re blessed.”
He told reporters that the team is upset, but not at his son.
“He’s talked to the other guys and nobody’s mad,” Hayes outlined. “They’re all heartbroken, legitimately heartbroken, because they had a chance to go win it.”
The University Interscholastic League released a statement about the matter on Friday, outlining the viewpoint of race officials, which they claim is not based on any animosity toward religion.
“The meet official indicated the athlete crossed the finish line and gestured upward with his arm and finger and behaved disrespectfully toward meet officials, in their opinion,” the statement said. “In the judgment of the official, this was a violation of NFHS track & field rule 4-6-1. The regional meet referee concurred with this decision and the student was subsequently disqualified.”
The rule referred to by the League states that “[u]nsportsmanlike conduct is behavior that is unethical or dishonorable. It includes, but is not limited to, disrespectfully addressing an official, any flagrant behavior, intentional contact, taunting, criticizing or using profanity directed toward someone.”
“There is no indication that the decision was made because of any religious expression,” the statement continued. “This was a judgment call, as are many decisions of meet officials in all activities.”
Hayes disagrees that his son’s gesture was in any way disrespectful.
“It’s not a malicious act. It’s not a taunting act. It’s a ‘we did it’ and [Derrick] knows where the source comes from,” he said. “I know him. He’s not a malicious kid. On the football field, he’ll hit you and then help you up.”
The League noted that the decision to disqualify the team on the account of Hayes may not be appealed, but that it “takes situations such as these very seriously, and is continuing to investigate the matter fully.”
According to reports, most area residents are supportive of Hayes and don’t believe that he should have been disqualified.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” stated LaPorchia Miller of Columbus. “I mean, when people are thanking God, He’s the reason we live.”
When one resident was asked what he thought about the high school sports policy, which is being interpreted as prohibiting any hand gestures of celebration, he replied, “I think it’s a bad policy.”
Therefore, some assert that the Columbus High School Mighty Cardinals still won the race whether they are allowed to advance to the state championships or not.