Je'Nan Hayes was part of girls’ basketball team in her school for all the season long and suddenly she was told to sit during the game because of her hijab.
On March 3rd she and her team came to their first regional appearance. Before the start of the game, hosted at Oxon Hill High School in Prince George's County, Maryland, the head official informed Watkins Mill High School coach, Donita Adams that Hayes would not be able to play because of the hijab she wore as part of her Muslim faith. "I didn't even want to look down at Je'Nan in that moment," Adams said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I had not yet told her that she wasn’t allowed to play in the game because of her headscarf.”
The officials ruling stood in compliance with a National Federation of State High School Associations rule requiring students to present "documented evidence" that their head coverings are worn for religious reasons. Since the student was allowed to play the first 24 games of the season without issue, neither Adams nor Hayes were aware of the rarely enforced rule. After learning of the ruling, Adams spoke with the Watkins Mill Athletic Director to try and have it reversed before tip-off. Her attempt was unsuccessful.
The night began like any other game night. Hayes warmed up and did drills with her team, saluted the American flag for the national anthem, and prepared for the game. It wasn't until after the game ended in a 51-36 loss to Oxon Hill that Adams pulled Hayes aside to apologize and explain why she had not left the bench. Upon learning why she was not permitted to play, Hayes immediately broke down in tears. "I felt discriminated against, and I didn't feel good at all," Hayes said. "If it was some reason like my shirt wasn't the right color or whatever, then I'd be like, 'Okay.' But because of my religion, it took it to a whole different level, and I just felt that it was not right at all."
While technically the officials ruling was correct, Prince George's County administrators and the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association agree that the wrong decision was made that night. "The officials of the game there took a strict interpretation of the rule, instead of the spirit of the rule," said Andy Warner, executive director of Maryland's governing body for high school athletics (MPSSAA). According to Prince George's County's athletic director, Earl Hawkins, "Everybody has apologized and that, if the situation happens again, we'll deal with it in a better fashion."