Nicole Pyles said she was competing in a softball game when she was told by an umpire she needed to remove her hair beads because they were covering her jersey number

By Jason Duaine Hahn
May 14, 2021 05:18 PM
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A Black softball player says she had to cut her hair in order to not be removed from her high school game by an umpire.

Nicole Pyles, a 16-year-old student at Hillside High School in North Carolina, told the Youth Justice Project that an umpire allegedly threatened to remove her from a game on April 19 because her hair covered her No. 6 jersey number.

Pyles said she tucked her hair into the back part of her jersey, but claims the umpire — who was enforcing a rule that prohibits the use of hair beads — wasn't satisfied.

"That's when the ump had basically said to my coach that either I take the beads out or I can't play," she recalled to the Youth Justice Project. "This is the second inning going on the third, and my beads are now a problem?"

"I felt embarrassed and I most definitely felt disrespected," she explained, adding that she had her teammates cut her hair so she could stay in the game. "I just felt like the world was just staring at me. Why me? Why anybody for that fact?"

According to The News & Observer, the home plate umpire at the game was Black and the base umpire was white.

In a statement sent to PEOPLE, North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker defended the umpires and their enforcement of the rules that bans "plastic visors, bandannas and hair-beads."

"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 [National Federation of State High School Associations] 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."

"We empathize with the student-athlete and her experience," Tucker continued. "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."

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During an interview with Today, Pyles said she confronted the umpire about not enforcing the rule during other games in which she had played and he had officiated.

"I said something to the ump; I asked him ... 'You've seen me play before, so why is it an issue?' And he said, 'It's a rule, so there's not much I can do about it right now,' " Pyles told the outlet.

"I wasn't going to let beads hold me back from playing a softball game," she said.

Julius, Pyles' father, said he felt his daughter was the target of discrimination during the incident, according to the Youth Justice Project.

"I'm still upset," he added to Today. "I'm going to continue to talk about it because this is about not only my child but these young ladies and gentleman, that now you have caused a chilling effect to these young ladies who may now think, 'If I continue to play sports, am I going to be treated differently?' "