About two weeks ago, an act that has been referred to as “excessive celebration” kept Columbus (Texas) High School’s 4 x 100 relay team from qualifying for the state championships.
Since that time, the media has made much of the fact that the disqualifying gesture was an “act of faith” and has used this to tease their stories and color their interviews. The disqualification was not made because the student displayed his faith, but rather because he made a display at all. The fact that raising his index finger next to his ear (or perhaps raising his hand over his head; think “we’re number one!”) is considered “excessive” is the issue, not “freedom of religion.”
Here’s the official press release from the governing body of the track meet:
At the Region IV Conference 3A Track & Field regional meet held on Saturday, April 27 at Texas A&M Kingsville, a relay team from Columbus High School was disqualified by local meet officials for an unsporting act at the conclusion of the boys 4 x 100 meter relay.
The meet official indicated the athlete crossed the finish line and gestured upward with his arm and finger and behaved disrespectfully toward meet officials, in their opinion. In the judgment of the official, this was a violation of NFHS track & field rule 4-6-1. The regional meet referee concurred with this decision and the student was subsequently disqualified. There is no indication that the decision was made because of any religious expression. This was a judgment call, as are many decisions of meet officials in all activities.
According to NFHS rules, once the meet is concluded, the results become final. Neither the UIL nor NFHS have rules that prohibit religious expression.
The UIL takes situations such as these very seriously, and is continuing to investigate the matter fully.
It makes sense to call out the meet official on his or her seemingly ironic use of the word “excessive.” What does not make sense is to turn this into an issue of religious freedom. The only person who knows why he raised his hand and index finger toward the sky is the student who got disqualified, Derrick Hayes, and he has wisely chosen to remain silent on the issue.