National governing body changes rule after Durham softball player forced to cut hair during game

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Rule changed after Durham teen forced to cut hair during softball game
"I let my friends cut my hair. And let them snatch beads out. And I played my game."

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has amended their rules regarding athletes' hair, following an incident involving a Hillside High softball player in the spring.

On April 19, then-sophomore Nicole Pyles, a centerfielder for Hillside High, was playing in a game against Jordan High School. After the first inning, Pyles said she was informed by umpires that her hair was covering her jersey number and would have to be moved. While Pyles said she did not believe that was the case, she complied.

A high school softball player says she felt humiliated when she was forced to cut her braids in the middle of a game.

After the second inning, the umpires said the beads in her hair were in violation of NFHS rules, specifically Rule 3-2-5, which states: "Headwear (caps, visors, headbands, ribbons, etc.) may be mixed. If worn, they must be white, black, beige or school colors (the colors are not required to be the same for team members). The logo may be any color. Flat items, no longer than 2 inches, used to control the hair, such as bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips, are permitted. Plastic visors, bandannas and hair-beads are prohibited."

"I let my friends cut my hair. And let them snatch beads out. And I played my game," said Pyles.

Her father Julius, who was not at the game, was upset when he learned of the incident.

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"It's completely discriminative. And it should have been addressed way before the game. If it's a rule, then the rule should have been applied but this is something that she had previously (had in) the last four, five games and it wasn't an issue," said Julius.

"Truthfully, I was very upset and I was embarrassed," added Nicole.

Julius spoke with school officials before reaching out to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, asking for a written apology for the team and coach.

"What I want to see done is quit hiding behind the doors and apologizing. Apologize in public. Because when you embarrassed my child, and the team, you did it in public," said Julius.

In a statement, NCHSAA told ABC11:

"Once the NCHSAA became aware of the issue involving Nicole Pyles' hair, we reached out to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Softball Rule Committee. Knowing the process for how rules are reviewed and/or changed, the timeline for such rule revision requests, etc., we wanted to see if there was any way this rule could be reviewed. Fortunately, the rule was already on the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the softball rules committee-June 14-15.
The NCHSAA advocated to the Softball Rules Committee and NFHS to review the rule and make changes as necessary, especially in light of the situations that had occurred with Nicole Pyles in Durham. We discussed the negative perceptions that such hair rules have, not just in softball, but potentially with all sports.
While rule writing/revisions does not happen quickly, we believe that the system and process the NFHS has for updating and reviewing rules and rule codes continues to work well in responding to culturally sensitive issues, while always keeping in mind the safety implications."

This week, the NFHS announced they would amend the rule for the upcoming season, writing in part: "In Rule 3-2-5b, language that previously prohibited hard items to control the hair, including beads, has been removed from the rules book. The committee did not believe that the use of hard items, such as beads, presented an injury risk to other players. In contrast, the prohibition of such items has been interpreted as adversely affecting one's cultural background."

"I am happy. Not happy that it happened, but I'm happy that the outcome is a lot better than what it could have been. People could have brushed it off, act like it didn't mean anything, but for a rule to actually be changed because of what happened to me and other people, it means a lot," said Nicole.

In May, following the incident, Durham Public Schools released a statement backing Pyles, stating they believed the rule should be amended. In response to the change, the school district told ABC11:

"As reflected in our school board's unanimous resolution in support of the CROWN Act, Durham Public Schools supports our students' right to free expression and opposes unreasonable or biased restrictions on Black women's hairstyles. We appreciate the rule change."

Wednesday, Julius and Nicole met with state lawmakers in Raleigh to discuss efforts to address hair discrimination; last week, they spoke with Congressman David Price.