Controversy Erupts After Basketball Team Banned From Finals Over Female Teammate

Makenzie Koch
·Intern
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After being disqualified from a national championship tournament because they had a girl on their team, the Charlottesville Cavaliers youth basketball team stood in silent protest in pink uniforms. (Photo: Twitter/Jessica Thomas-Johnson)

A Virginia youth basketball team was disqualified Saturday from the National Travel Basketball Association’s (NTBA) national championship tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for having a female player — despite the fact that she’s been on the team for three years.

Ten-year-old Kymora Johnson has been playing with the Charlottesville Cavaliers under-11 team since she was 6 years old. “She’s played in hundreds of tournaments and two prior NTBA national championship tournaments on this team,” Jessica Thomas-Johnson, Kymora’s mother, tells Yahoo Parenting. But after winning their fifth game, the team was told they couldn’t continue on in Sunday’s tournament because they had broken the rules. 

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“About 15 minutes after the game ended, our coach was pulled aside,” Thomas-Johnson says. “[He came back and told us] that we were disqualified and couldn’t proceed because we have a girl on the team.” Thomas-Johnson says NTBA president John Whitley told her and the coach that someone had sent the organization a photo of Kymora playing at the tournament and complained. 

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Ten-year-old Kymora Johnson and her youth basketball team wore pink uniforms on Sunday in protest of their disqualification from the National Travel Basketball Association tournament. (Photo: Twitter/Jessica Thomas-Johnson)

The NTBA’s regulations do state that a girl can play on a boys’ team at certain tournaments with a waiver from the organization. However, the regulations also state that this doesn’t apply to the national championship tournament, because the NTBA offers the tournament for both boys’ and girls’ teams.

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Whitley told Thomas-Johnson that the rule prohibiting girls to play in the boys’ national championship tournament is new, but Thomas-Johnson says she and her daughter were never informed of the change. 

But despite the rule change, Thomas-Johnson says the check-in officials admitted her daughter into the tournament Saturday. The NTBA requires that each player check in by showing a birth certificate and filling out paperwork. Thomas-Johnson says that a check-in official even confirmed Kymora’s date of birth and school grade before giving her approval to play. 

“Even if it was buried in the rules and we missed it, they accepted her at check-in with her spiral curly hair [worn] down, hot pink nail polish, birth certificate, and DMV-issued ID,” Thomas-Johnson says.

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Kymora at the NTBA national championship tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Photo: Jessica Thomas-Johnson)

But the NTBA tells a different story. “This was a very clear-cut situation. The head coach was informed at team check-in that girls are not allowed to play on boys’ teams for our national championship, as we offer the girls a national championship as well,” a representative from the NTBA tells Yahoo Parenting. “Unfortunately, the coach chose to play this girl anyway, and therefore by our rules and policies the team was dismissed from the tournament because he played with an ineligible player.”

Thomas-Johnson says Kymora volunteered to sit out from the rest of the tournament if her team could continue playing, but Whitley wouldn’t allow it. The team that the Cavaliers beat in their fifth game went on to win the championship.

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Since the disqualification, Kymora has seen lots of support from her team. On Sunday, despite not being able to play, the team wore all-pink uniforms to the tournament in a silent protest. “[The NTBA] called the police, like these 10-year-olds were such a threat,” Thomas-Johnson says. “But not one parent or child has directed their anger at us. It just really solidifies the feeling of family that we already had with the organization.”

Kymora’s supporters have even taken to social media to express their frustration by using the hashtag #EqualityForKymora on Twitter. “Let the kids play! You guys broke the kids heart! They were crying! Injustice! Never was a big AAU fan!” former NBA player Sean Singletary tweeted on Sunday. “It makes me upset when you ruin a girls dreams on a team just because she was a girl,” Mya Wright tweeted. And Selena Cozart wrote, “Why disqualify a team for having a girl after they were allowed to play?”

Says Thomas-Johnson, “These children have worked so hard to get to this point, and to have it taken from them is just heartbreaking.”

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