Losing A Victory
The judge’s final decision came down like a hammer. All she could do was sit there and watch her well-earned victory and hard work slip away.
Even her coach couldn’t believe it. Hours of training, and for what? To be disqualified over something she couldn’t control? Everyone wore the same suit! So why was this happening?
Born To Swim
Breckynn Willis felt like she had been born to live in the water. Every dive and stroke was exhilarating.
She might have only been 17, but there were dreams of scholarships and the Olympics. So, any and every competition remotely close to Anchorage, Alaska, was firmly set in her itinerary. Little did she know, the coming event would be a disaster.
Parents, staff, and guests lined the long rows of plastic seats. The large room smelled like chlorine and echoed with splashes.
It was her favorite feeling. She finally heard her name called for the 100-meter freestyle. She felt excited butterflies and jolts of electricity through her body. What she didn’t notice was one judge glaring at her.
The whistle blew and she dove in. The cool waters invigorated her and every muscle already knew exactly what to do.
The pattern unfolded perfectly, and when she surfaced at the end, she already knew she had done well. The young woman lifted herself out of the water and grabbed a towel. The results were seconds away.
“Breckynn Willis of Diamond High School is disqualified.”
The words rang in her head like the remains of the whistle that were still rattling around in her skull. Had she heard that right? She looked over at her teammates and coach. They were all wearing the same look of utter shock. What happened?!
The first to go over was her coach, Lauren Langly. She already looked furious.
She watched with her friends as faces turned red and the argument got louder. The referee pointed at Breckynn. Whatever she said next had made her coach take a step back, as if she'd been slapped in the face.
"You Can't Be Serious?"
Then she heard, “You can’t be serious.” That was it. She couldn’t stand idly by any longer.
To say Breckynn was bewildered would be an understatement. She hadn’t received any penalties during the swim. It was clear from the referee’s scowling face that something was wrong, but she could never have imagined what the problem really was.
As Breckynn walked up to the referee to confront her, she began to hear snippets of what she was saying. All the blood rushed to her face.
As Breckynn approached, she heard, “The girl’s swimsuit was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.’’ The coach’s face twisted in disgust at the comment. Then, they noticed her walking over.
“Let’s go,” her coach said. “What happened?” she asked. This is where things took a very strange turn.
Apparently, the referee had decided to eliminate the student from the competition because she was showing too much skin and decided she had intentionally hiked up her suit to be more revealing. But, later, another reason would emerge.
Everyone else, including Breckynn, pointed out that every single girl wore the exact same suit.
There was also a reason for the skin. It’s called a “swimmer’s wedgie” and everyone gets them. Even regular swimmers know the feeling and know they are not comfortable. No one would do this intentionally. However, the real reason would soon come out.
After the ruling, Coach Lauren Langford went to social media and lodged a formal complaint with the Alaska School Activities Association, too.
The answer, however, was just as bad as the original complaint. Breckynn, it turns out, was being specially targeted by the referee for a rather disgusting reason.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Not only was the girl curvier than the other teammates, but she was also of mixed-race heritage.
It might seem like something impossible to spot for most people, but when the details came to light, it was sadly believable. The facts ended up undisputable and caused a huge blast of outrage. Why?
Sister Experienced It Too
Everyone was wearing standard uniform suits, two other girls looked very similar to her, and her 100m freestyle execution was excellent.
Her sister, and fellow swimmer, ended up the key to the situation. No other member of any team had been kicked out for appearance reasons, but she and her sister had. When they understood why, everyone involved was furious.
Coach Lauren Langford was seething when she spoke to KTUU: “The rest of her team was wearing the same uniform, and she was the only one disqualified. It is my opinion that she has been targeted and singled out over the course of the last year.”
The disqualification, according to referee Jill Blackstone, was due to a new “modesty rule,” but the truth was becoming clearer and clearer.
The new “modesty” rule had come with new, standard-issue swimsuits for every girl, but Breckynn had been singled out because Jill Blackstone, the referee, just hadn’t liked the way it looked on the girl’s fuller, curvier figure.
It was just as coach Langford had suspected, but it was her word against Blackford’s. But, what the referee didn’t know was that Lauren had proof.
School Swimming Scandal
Lauren wrote a blog post detailing the scandal. Soon, the truth would be out. The new “modesty” rules that were put in place at the school were solely for policing young girls’ bodies.
She believed the whole incident was an orchestrated campaign against Beckynn, her sister, and other girls of color. One terrible incident, in particular, was at the ugly heart of it all.
As a swim coach at another school within the district that regularly competes with Dimond High, I’ve watched this scandal divide my swimming community,” coach Langford wrote.
“It has caused my own athletes to be needlessly self-conscious about the appearance of their bodies, which preoccupies them just as much, if not more, than the quality of their performances. What’s clear is that these girls’ bodies are being policed — not their uniforms.”
“These young swimmers aren’t being punished for wearing their suits in scandalous or provocative ways,” her post continues, “but rather, because their ample hips, full chests, and dark complexions look different than their willowy, thin, and mostly pallid teammates. Some will argue this scandal has nothing to do with race.”
“...The issue becomes glaring when officials are overheard acknowledging that white athletes are baring too much skin as well, yet they’ve never been disqualified.” But that wasn’t all.
Coach Langford detailed another incidence that had taken place within the year. Unbelievably, a parent had secretly taken photographs of Breckynn’s rear when she was wearing a swimsuit and had circulated them via email to other parents and teachers!
“Uniform violation!” the parent wrote, and later, someone overheard them saying "that for the sake of their sons, the mother of these young ladies should cover up her daughters."
If You Don't Like It, Don't Look
Coach Langford concluded her post: “If you do not like the way that swimsuits fit on these girls’ bodies then don’t look; they are minors, children, and no one should be looking at them anyway. We cannot take back what has already unfolded but we can make sure it does not happen going forward.”
It wasn’t long before Coach Langford’s post went viral. Although the issue with the referee was under investigation, it wasn’t long before the Anchorage school district was forced to take a stance on the matter.
Meanwhile, Beckynn was going public with the shocking story. The incident had reached the ears of Kelly Clarkson, who invited both the swimmer and her coach to appear on The Kelly Clarkson Show.
Everyone who saw the episode was disgusted, too, and some were quick to take to the comments section to point out the startling facts.
“The thing that’s really frustrating is the more curvy a woman is, the more pressured she is to be “modest,” I mean come on folks. Is this really about being “modest” or body shaming cuz men can’t handle it??” One woman wrote.
“What’s worse is that the referee who made this call disqualifying her... was a WOMAN! Seriously? How can a woman do that to a girl? Stop body shaming females for being who they are!” another proclaimed. But would there be any justice?
Two Obvious Rules
The Association reversed the ruling and reinstated her points and title.
Then, there were two very strict reminders sent out to all staff and referees. First, there could be zero assumption about standard-issued suits – which in many opinions would have been obvious. Second, and most importantly…
It was professionally and personally inappropriate to judge a competitor based on their appearance – again, this should have been obvious. ut apparently, a few individuals needed a reminder.
There was no place for sexism, racism, or discrimination in their competitions. However, there was one silver lining to the entire ordeal.
The media coverage had brought her skills into the spotlight.
She ended up receiving serval college offers and talks of scholarships. Not to mention, people started knowing her name around the swimming circuit (this time in a good way). The insane incident was over and she could finally focus on her dreams again.