Supporters of 17-year-old Breckynn Willis say the teen is being "singled out" for having a "curvier" figure

By Char Adams
September 10, 2019 05:31 PM

A 17-year-old swimmer was disqualified from a high school swim meet in Anchorage on Friday after a referee said her uniform — issued by the school — was in violation of the rules when the teen experienced a wedgie, reports say.

Breckynn Willis, a state championship swimmer who attends Dimond High School in Anchorage, won the 100-meter freestyle against Chugiak High School, only to have a referee strip her of the victory because her butt was slightly exposed in the suit, according to KTUU.

“We have a term for it — it’s called a suit wedgie. And wedgies happen. It’s uncomfortable. No one’s going to walk around that way intentionally,” Lauren Langford, director of YMCA aquatics and coach of West High School’s swim team, told the Washington Post.

Langford added to KTUU: “The rest of her team was wearing the same uniform, and she was the only one disqualified. It is my opinion that she has been targeted and singled out over the course of the last year.”

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The National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body for high school athletics in Alaska, states that “females shall wear suits which cover the buttocks and breasts.” An official who worked at Friday’s meet told the Anchorage Daily News that the referee who disqualified Willis said she saw “butt cheek touching butt cheek.”

The Anchorage School District — which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment — said in a statement that it is investigating the incident and would not tolerate any actions that “discriminate” or “target” student athletes.

“We intend to gather all the facts surrounding the disqualification so we can accurately address the matter with officials and take appropriate action to ensure fair, equitable competition and consistent application of the rules for this athlete and her peers,” officials said in a statement on the district’s website.

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However, Willis’ supporters said she and her younger sister, Dreamer Kowatch, should be rewarded for their talent, not punished. Langford, meanwhile, said racism and sexism likely played a role in the ref’s decision.

“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,” Langford wrote in a Medium post detailing the incident. “The obstacles faced by these young ladies have created a culture of tension and fear on pool decks all over the state. Girls of all shapes, sizes, and colors are worrying about their suits as they never have before.”

The girls’ mother, Meagan Kowatch, told KTUU that the referee who made the call had previously embarrassed Dreamer by critiquing her swimsuit at a previous meet. She wants the disqualification overturned and the ref to be kept away from her daughters in the future.

“They’re just an inspiration that should be celebrated and applauded, not rebuked,” trainer Dewayne Ingram told KTUU.