A Black high school softball player from Durham, North Carolina said she was "embarrassed" after being forced to cut her hair in order to stay in the game.
Sophomore Nicole Pyles, a 16-year-old Black girl, said two umpires officiating the game told her to remove the beads from her braids.
The symbolic adornment is a cultural style that predates the transatlantic slave trade representing African American beauty and pride.
Pyles said she was also frustrated because she wore her hair the same way at previous softball games.
Now she and her father are calling the incident that took place on April 19 at Hillside High School during a game against Jordan High School, a case of discrimination.
They demanded a change in regulations to prevent this from happening to another student.
Athletic and school dress code policies disproportionately target people of color and their culture.
Pyles recalled the incident with WRAL and said it was the top of the second inning and her team was already winning when the umpires questioned her braids with beads.
"The umps came up to my coach asking about my beads. I was just like, well, it's fine. I'll tuck them and put them away."
"When I came back to hit again, it was brought up that there was another issue. That they couldn't see my number, but now it's a safety issue or a violation, whatever they want to call it."
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Pyles was given an ultimatum to either remove her beads or forfeit the game.
She opted to stay in the game, which led to her friends removing the beads from her hair—some of which had to be cut out.
"My team, all of my friends were cutting out some of my beads," Pyles recalled.
"They snatched some of the beads out of my hair. I felt just so embarrassed and disrespected and just distraught at that point."
Julius Pyles, Nicole's father, said he was "deeply hurt because my child, none of those girls, should have had to endure that type of behavior."
WRAL shared Wednesday's statement from N.C. High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker in response to the incident.
The statement read:
"The NCHSAA is aware of the report that a young lady at Hillside High School cut her hair to remove hair beads in order to stay in the game against Jordan High School on April 19, 2021."
"The NCHSAA is a member of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) which is the organization that helps provide uniform playing rules for high school athletics across the nation."
"As a member of the NFHS, the NCHSAA follows all NFHS playing rules and regulations, including Softball rule 3-2-5 which states that 'Plastic visors, bandanas and hair-beads are prohibited.'"
"This is not a new rule, and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified as supported by NFHS rule."
"Further, according to NFHS Softball Rule 3-5-1, prior to the start of a contest, it is the responsibility of each coach to verify to the plate umpire that all his or her players are legally equipped and that players and equipment are in compliance with all NFHS rules."
The statement added:
"We empathize with the student athlete and her experience. It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred."
"The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them prior to participating in any athletic contest."
Four months ago, Durham became one of the first cities in the state to prohibit race-based hair discrimination in the workplace known as the Crown Act.
Durham Public Schools—which does not impose a ban on beads in hair—issued a statement expressing their support for Pyles and acknowledged that the rules unfairly target people of color.
"Durham Public Schools supports our students' right to free expression and opposes unreasonable or biased restrictions on Black women's hairstyles."
"We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic."
"We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended. We frown on any rule or policy that promotes cultural insensitivity or does not reflect the ideals and principles of DPS and our employees."
Tyler Whittenberg, the Chief Counsel for Justice System Reform with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said:
"We really want Durham Public Schools and the county to not only have the hair act for employment and housing but to extend that to the classrooms and into the field, so that young girls like Nicole and so many other student athletes can live in their full dignity."
After the incident, Pyles said
"This will never change how I feel about my face, my body, my hair, none of it. It's going to be with me for the rest of my life."
She used her experience to encourage others to stand up for themselves when they are being challenged.
"I want everybody else to know that you need to speak up when you're being bullied, discriminated, any of it, because that happens to a lot of people, and people never want to talk about it."
"Be strong in your own shoes, and stand for what's right."