New York girls track team members suspended after sports bra protest

·4 min read

Albany High School student-athletes were booted from practice for wearing sports bras instead of shirts, which led to immediate activism.

The girls’ track and field team at Albany High School in upstate New York received a suspension after they launched a petition calling out gender dress code bias.

Several members of the Falcons were asked to leave practice last week by Ashley Chapple, Albany’s athletic director, for wearing sports bras instead of shirts, according to The Albany Times Union, and they complied. But one sprinter responded by starting an online petition titled “Stop Gender Biased Dress Codes: Allow the Girls Track Team to wear Sports Bras.”

Members of the Albany High School girls track team took a stand against gender dress code bias on their campus. (Photo: Change.org)
Members of the Albany High School girls track team took a stand against gender dress code bias on their campus. (Photo: Change.org)

“Wednesday, she confronted us about wearing sports bras and saying we couldn’t [just] wear sports bras because we have male coaches,” said sophomore Jordan Johnson, who started the signature-gathering effort on Change.org the following day.

Johnson told The Times Union that Chapple advised them to cover up “because male coaches are around.” The athletes who were booted from practice opted to wear sports bras on a hot, sweaty day while their male counterparts were allowed to go shirtless, which the girls deemed as unfair and had not been the practice before.

“Support the Albany high girls track team as we protest the gender-biased dress code,” reads the Change.org petition launched before the teens left campus that includes a photo of them posing in their sports bras. “The athletic administration staff is attempting to exclude us from our sport as a result of the misinterpretation of the dress code. We’re being punished for practicing in sports bras in the presence of male coaches, while the boys team was asked nicely to put shirts back on and was not punished.”

When they returned Thursday to attend a lacrosse game, the athletes said Chapple and several school security guards told them they couldn’t remain. The next day, 13 girls on the 15-member track team were suspended — they contend, after their petition was launched.

Ron Lesko, director of communications and operations for the Albany school district, said in a statement that the athletes were disciplined “due to inappropriate and disrespectful behavior directed toward an administrator,” not because of their actual activism act. Officials at Albany High claim the students used vulgar language with Chapple and security at the lacrosse game.

“We were loud, but we did not swear,” said track team member Alexis Arango. “No one was cursing. We were loud because we were outside.” Added Johnson: “No one was saying anything bad. There may have been voices raised, but there was no vulgar language said.”

According to the report, a letter penned by Chapple was hand-delivered a letter to each suspended athlete on Saturday, explaining their suspension was due to the foul language they allegedly used at the lacrosse game. It asserted that each penalized girl “poses a continuing danger to persons or property or an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic and athletic process.”

At an on-campus meeting Monday with Albany High School officials — which the track team member’s parents were reportedly not permitted to attend — Principal Jodi Commerford reportedly specified that the track team members had been suspended Friday because of wearing their sports bras and for trying to attend their school’s lacrosse game. The two who faced no disciplinary action went on to compete in the Shenendehowa Invitational that night, and the squad scored not a single point.

In a statement from Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams forwarded by Lesko to The Times Union, she says, “Members of the Albany High School girls’ track and field team served a suspension Friday due to inappropriate and disrespectful behavior directed toward an administrator. Their suspension was in no way related to wardrobe. It was entirely related to their inappropriate conduct, and in alignment with our Student Code of Conduct.”

Twelve of the student athletes have been reinstated, according to reports, and Adams says “members of the girls’ track and field team have agreed to participate on the committee that reviews the Student Code of Conduct for next school year. That work will include a review of the sections related to student attire.”

Johnson’s petition has garnered more than 4,000 signatures as of Thursday.

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