Decision to disqualify high school swimmer over her "suit wedgie" is overturned

By Christopher Brito

/ CBS News

A referee's decision to disqualify an Alaska high school swimmer for her "suit wedgie" after winning a race has been overturned following public backlash, CBS affiliate KTVA reports. The Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) decided to to reverse the disqualification after an investigation by the Anchorage School District.

The district said Tuesday that the Dimond High School student was improperly targeted based on how a school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body. "We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape," the school district said. "This disqualification was heavy-handed and unnecessary."

After the school's swimming coach appealed the girl's disqualification to the district, the appeal went to the ASAA. The organization agreed and overturned the decision, noting that the rules require a referee to bring any potential wardrobe violation to the coach's attention before a race begins.

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"All evidence gathered, including the statement provided by the official, indicated the official did not notify the coach prior to disqualifying the student," ASAA said. "Therefore ASAA has determined, the disqualification was the result of the misapplication of the rule and as a result is being overturned."

Meagan Kowatch, the mother of the swimmer, said ASAA's decision is a start, but more action is needed — including an apology. "ASAA needs to be held accountable for what happened to [my daughter]," she said.

"If this is all they've got," she said, "we're going to end up with a lawsuit. So we're optimistic that conditions are going to get better, but at this point it's just not enough."

The school district said it wants the official to be decertified for their decision and the swimsuit rule revised.

Lauren Langford, who coaches at another school in the area, brought widespread attention to the initial ruling in a blog post that raised allegations of "racism, sexism, [and] body shaming." Langford wrote that the girl was wearing a school-approved uniform, just like her teammates — yet was the only athlete who was disqualified.

"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," the coach wrote in her blog post. "It is only these girls with their darker skin and unique bodies who have been targeted."

Anchorage School District's Senior Director of Secondary Education Kersten Johnson-Struempler said the district will do more to make sure their students feel safe, KTVA reports.

"We really want kids to be judged on the merit of their play on a field, or a pool, or a court, whatever their sport is," she said. "We don't really have any desire for kids to feel like they're being body shamed or judged because of the shape of their body or size. We really want them to be fully engaged in those activities and only concentrating on their sport and nothing else."

First published on September 11, 2019 / 3:23 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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