When 17-year-old Breckynn Willis stepped out of the pool after dominating her competition in the 100-meter freestyle, she thought she was victorious. Her excitement was short-lived though because a female referee disqualified her because her swimsuit rode up on her during the race and exposed her buttocks. The referee's decision outraged parents, coaches, and students who felt the decision punished the teenager because of her "curvier" physique.
"All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,"Lauren Langford, who coaches swimming at another high school, told the Washington Post. "And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features."
This wasn't the first incident with the female referee, who has not been identified. Last year, the same referee criticized Willis' younger sister, Dreamer Kowatch, for how she looked in the tight-fitting swimsuit.
In another incident, a parent who was upset with how Willis looked in the school-issued swimsuit snapped a photo of her backside and shared it with other parents. Some parents have even told the girls' mother, Meagan Kowatch, that her daughters must cover up for the sake of their sons.
"They are being targeted not because they are wearing their suits to be scandalous, thus inspiring immorality among other young people, but rather because their ample hips, tiny waists, full chests, and dark complexions look different than their willowy, thin, and mostly pallid teammates," Langford wrote in a blog post on Medium.
Kowatch told KTUU that she wants to see her daughter's victory restored and believes the referee should not be allowed to officiate any swim meets involving her three children.
Officials at Dimond High School, which is located in Anchorage, Alaska, have appealed the referee's decision and hope that Willis is reinstated as the winner of the race. The Anchorage School District issued a statement saying they are investigating the incident.
"The disqualification appears to stem from a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms," the statement said. "We intend to gather all the facts surrounding the disqualification so we can accurately address the matter with officials and take appropriate action to ensure fair, equitable competition and consistent application of the rules for this athlete and her peers."