Black N.C. softball player, 16, told to cut hair by umpires at game

Nicole Pyles was playing softball in April when two umpires told her to take the beads out of her hair or leave the game.

A Black female softball player in Durham, North Carolina was told to cut her hair or leave a game by two umpires. 

Nicole Pyles, 16, told a local news outlet she was playing for Hillside High School in April when two umpires told her she would have to take her beads out of her hair or leave the game against rival team Jordan High School. 

The teen said she let her teammates cut her hair to remove the beads to stay in the game. 

Nicole Pyles said she was playing softball for Durham Hillside High School in April when umpires told her she’d have to take the beads out of her hair or leave the game.

“It was humiliating,” Pyles said. “Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game where we are actually doing well? I’m embarrassed because you pick on me in front of all these people for no reason.”

The base umpire was white, and the home plate umpire was Black. Pyles noted she felt that the treatment, particularly by the base umpire, was unfair. 

“He had seen me play multiple times,” she said, adding “if it was a rule that’s that important, why wasn’t it enforced the first time you spoke to me or you saw me come on the field or off the field or any of that?”

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The school district is investigating the incident and offered its support to Pyles, still acknowledging the rule letting players use bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips while prohibiting plastic visors, bandannas and hair beads was in place. 

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has sided with the ump.

“This is not a new rule, and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified,” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said in a statement. “We empathize with the student athlete and her experience. It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred. The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them prior to participating in any athletic contest.”

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Durham Public Schools, the local campus district, has Pyles’ back.

“DPS supports our student-athletes and their right to self-expression in a manner befitting their culture, consistent with safety in training and competition,” said a DPS statement. “We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic. We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended. We frown on any rule or policy that promotes cultural insensitivity or does not reflect the ideals and principles of DPS and our employees.”

The county of Durham passed a nondiscrimination policy that covers hairstyles in January. However, hair beads are currently still banned by the school district. 

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In a Zoom interview with The News & Observer, the teen’s father, Julius Pyles, said an investigation is coming late. “I think it should have happened when the incident took place,” he said. “It shouldn’t have taken this long.” 

“I want to see the rule changed, specifically the beads rule,” Pyles said, adding the incident “embarrassed me, hurt me, hurt my family, embarrassed my teammates on their senior night in front of their families, their friends, previous Hillside students who played at Hillside years ago and graduated college.” 

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