A decision to disqualify a “mixed-race” swimmer from a race she had already won was overturned Tuesday after officials faced backlash for deeming the swimmer’s swimsuit immodest and showing off too much of the teen’s backside.
Breckynn Willis, a member on Alaska’s Dimond High School swim team, was wearing the same swimsuit as the rest of her team when she alone was disqualified at a swimming and diving meet Friday at Chugiak High School, according to the school district and members of the school’s swimming community.
The Anchorage School District confirmed in a statement that the “disqualified athlete was wearing the approved, school-issued suit during the race.”
“In the first three meets this year, the Dimond swim team has had no disqualifications related to the wear of the swim uniform,” the district said in the statement.
The Dimond swim coach contested the official’s decision at the meet and was “quickly denied,” but Dimond coach Scott O’Brien appealed the decision to the Alaska School Activities Association, according to Anchorage Daily News.
It was overturned on appeal.
“The disqualification appears to stem from a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms,” the district said in its statement.
Writer and West High swim coach Lauren Lanford wrote about the disqualification Saturday on the blogging platform Medium.
She said in the post she believes Willis, 17, was targeted because she and her two sisters, who are also on the Dimond swim team, have “darker skin” and “curvier” figures.
“If lots of girls are wearing them, and they’re cut in a way that is ‘immodest,’ why has only one swimmer been disqualified,” Langford asked.
“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 added.
It’s not the first time Willis has been targeted, Langford said.
“This same girl was the subject of one rogue team parent’s photography project last season in which they took graphic photos of her backside in her swimsuit without her knowledge or consent and circulated the images via email as evidence that her attire is immoral,” the swim coach said.
Willis’ younger sister, “one of the fastest athletes in the history of Alaska swimming,” has said she feels as though “she’s being told by the community that her specific body is not appropriate for competitive swimming,” Langford said.
In the recent incident involving Willis, the district said in its statement that although officials’ decisions are “independent,” they are expected “to conduct themselves in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of every student athlete regardless of the young person’s gender, body shape, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or disability.”
“We owe it to our student athletes to provide a fair and consistent atmosphere in which they can train and compete to their fullest potential,” the district said. “ASD will not tolerate actions by its coaches, students, staff, or community members that discriminate, target, or otherwise create an unsafe or inequitable environment for its student athletes.”