A top female swimmer in Alaska was disqualified from a race she had already won when a referee ruled that her bathing suit was immodest and showed off too much backside, officials said Monday.
The swim coach of Dimond High School in the Anchorage School District plans to appeal the ruling that was made Friday against 17-year-old Breckynn Willis during a dual meet against Chugiak High School, NBC affiliate KTUU reported.
Alaska follows national high school standards that call for male swimmers to have their buttocks covered and for girls to have both their buttocks and breasts covered.
Willis wore to the meet a school-issued swimsuit that follows the requirements put forth by the high school sport’s governing body, a district statement on Monday said.
“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 statement said.
Annette Rohde, another official working the Dimond-Chugiak meet, told the Anchorage Daily News she “froze in disbelief” when the head referee disqualified Willis from the race she had just won.
Rohde said she confronted the referee after the meet: “I told her, ‘I need to know how you’re defining this, because this is going to blow up.’’’
The referee reportedly told Rohde that the bottom of the girl’s suit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.’’
Willis is one of the Alaska’s top female swimmers, winning state titles in the 200-meter freestyle and 100- meter butterfly last year. Her sister, Dreamer Kowatch, is also a top pool performer, having won Alaska’s 500-meter freestyle in 2018.
The girls’ mother, Meagan Kowatch, told KTUU that Dreamer had a run-in with the same referee who openly critiqued her suit’s fit during a meet.
Lauren Langford, the swim coach at West High School in Anchorage, wrote a lengthy post on the internet publishing platform Medium saying that swimsuits are sized to fit snugly for racing and that Willis was singled out because she has more curves and looks different than her fellow swimmers.
“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 wrote in the post Saturday. “Their ample hips, tiny waists, full chests, and dark complexions look different than their willowy, thin, and mostly pallid teammates.”
“We need to let these girls know that no one can pass judgement on their bodies for any reason. Our community needs to ensure that these young ladies and countless others like them, current and prospective swimmers, can train and compete without fear of being targeted because they look different,” Langford continued.
“It never should have come to this in last night’s disqualification and it is time to bring an end to this discrimination,” she wrote.
Officials with the Alaska School Activities Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.
Willis’ family could not immediately be reached for comment.