Tennessee athletic association may be one step closer to accommodating religious headwear for athletes

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A ninth-grade volleyball player may soon be the catalyst for change regarding religious headwear for student-athletes.

Fourteen-year-old Najah Aqeel was prepared for her second game on the volleyball team at Valor College Prep when she was told she was disqualified from the match because she was wearing a hijab.

“My coach pulled me aside and she said ‘Did you send a letter in to get an approval to wear your scarf?’ I told her ‘no,'” said Aqeel. “I didn’t really think much about it anymore.”

According to current rules set by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS), players must have authorization from their state athletic association in order to wear a hijab for religious reasons.

“I shouldn’t have to give an explanation of why I’m wearing my scarf,” said the ninth-grader. “It made me feel disappointed and hurt and angry and sad at the same time.”

On September 25, Valor submitted an official request to TSSAA proposing an amendment to the association’s bylaws. That proposal received overwhelming support from other charter schools across the region.

Assistant Executive Director for TSSAA released for following statement to News 2:

“TSSAA has not approved the proposal regarding religious headwear yet. The member schools voted overwhelmingly for the proposal during the TSSAA Regional Meetings on November 4th. However, that does not mean the proposal has been approved. The TSSAA Legislative Council has to consider this and all other proposals during their next scheduled meeting on December 10. The vote of the membership is only a guide for them to consider as they decide whether or not to approve the proposal. The Legislative Council is the 12-member governing body of the association that has the authority to make changes to the Constitution and Bylaws is vested in a council of twelve administrators. Council members are school administrators elected — four from each Grand Division of the state — for three-year terms. The Council ascertains the sentiment of the membership toward such changes through annual regional meetings in each Grand Division of the state where proposals are discussed by school principals.”

Matthew Gillespie, Assistant Executive Director

Aqeel said she hopes the council’s final decision takes students like her into consideration.

“I would just tell them to really think about what they are going to vote for and think of how many people are going to be wearing their hijabs, and how many people wear things for religious reasons,” said Aqeel, “I want them to know that we shouldn’t really have to give an explanation.”

In the meantime, Aqeel has been allowed to play while TSSAA resolves the issue.

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