September 25, 2022
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At Albany High, a continuing fight against sports-bra madness

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ALBANY — Adults don’t always behave like adults. If Albany High School’s track athletes didn’t already know that, they do now.

As you may know, girls on the track team and the city school district are in a dispute over the wearing of sports bras without shirts over them, which may lead you to wonder if the school was transported back to the 1950s. After all, such “active wear” is commonly worn by female track athletes, as anyone who has watched the Olympics will know.

But the controversy, which has attracted national attention, is only marginally about clothing.

It’s also about how female track athletes were seemingly punished for daring to protest the school’s policy, and how that punishment differed from how male athletes were treated. And it’s about the district’s apparent reluctance to engage and answer questions, frustrating students and parents alike.

“What I can’t believe is the school district’s refusal to address the situation with concerned parents,” said Daniel Martinelli, father to one of the athletes.

As initially reported by the Times Union’s James Allen, this all started on May 11, a Wednesday, when warm weather led male track athletes to go shirtless and females to wear just their sports bras.

That’s been common practice in recent years, according to several of the athletes, but on this particular day, Albany School District Athletic Director Ashley Chapple told the girls the presence of male coaches made their attire inappropriate. Male athletes were also told to put their shirts on, and everyone, I’m told, complied.

But the female athletes believed the rule to be unfair, or at least silly, and decided to protest. So at the next practice, on Thursday, they again wore their sports bras, while male athletes went shirtless in solidarity.

And that’s when Chapple allegedly ordered the boys to put on their shirts and sent the girls home.

“That’s a Title IX violation,” Martinelli said, referring to the federal civil rights law that prevents sex-based discrimination in schools. “It is in that moment, in that second right there, that things went awry.”

I should mention that Martinelli is an assistant superintendent in the Cohoes city school district and a former middle school principal. He’s a person with some experience in how best to handle and punish teens.

I should also mention Chapple has declined to speak with the Times Union and other media outlets. That means we’re getting the students’ side of the story and not hers. I wish that wasn’t so.

In any event, the female athletes left the practice, went to get ice cream and then, still wearing sports bras, returned to the school to watch a lacrosse game. There, they were confronted by Chapple and security guards and ordered to leave.

The next day, 13 of the female members of the team were temporarily suspended from participating in athletics.

Chapple, in a subsequent letter to parents, claimed the punishment was necessary because the girls used “inappropriate and disrespectful language” toward her at the game – a claim the athletes dispute – and because, in Chapple’s opinion, they presented “a continuing danger to persons and property or an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic and athletic process.”

That claim seems over-the-top, especially since the girls’ team has a stellar academic record. Also, it’s strange the punishment was a blanket one. Are we to believe all the girls were equally disruptive and disrespectful? Did they all use “vulgar language”?

Stranger still: At least one of the suspended athletes, Sasha Roter, wasn’t even at the lacrosse game. At a recent school board meeting, Roter told members that Chapple’s version of events is “not true” and said the team was obviously punished for having the audacity to protest.

Well, yeah. It’s difficult to conclude otherwise, just as it’s hard not to believe that Chapple, perhaps upset by the challenge to her authority, acted rashly and bungled this situation from the start.

At the June board meeting, Roter and her teammates urged officials to investigate and erase the suspensions, which caused members of the girls’ team to miss a much-anticipated, end-of-year invitational. A reversal may yet happen, as Superintendent Kaweeda Adams has indicated she’s reviewing each student’s suspension.

“We strongly support the right of our students to advocate for what they believe in and to advocate for meaningful change,” Adams said.

What’s clear is that the controversy isn’t going away. More than 50,000 people have now signed an online petition supporting the athletes, and Martinelli, who believes the handling of the suspensions violated state law, said he’s prepared to take an appeal to the state Department of Education.

Meanwhile, the athletes haven’t gone quiet. They may have been punished for protesting, but they’re still using their voices.

“There still has been no acknowledgment, no attempt, and no acceptance or willingness” by the district to address a decision “that belittled, shamed and imprinted scarlet letters on our records,” said senior Alexis Hope Arango at the meeting, before asking the district to admit and correct its mistakes.

In other words, Arango wants the adults to behave like adults.

cchurchill@timesunion.com ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill



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