Updated May 6, 1:20 p.m.
The University Interscholastic League has determined that a student's disqualification from a track meet had everything to do with the athlete's disrespectful behavior and nothing to do with his religious beliefs, according to a statement released Monday.
The results of the UIL investigation follow Gov. Rick Perry's Friday request for a deeper review, after hearing that the athlete's father believed his son had made a religious gesture.
According to the UIL's statement, even the athlete's father now concedes that his son was not making a religious gesture.
“In looking back at the conclusion of the 4x100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner,” KC and Stacey Hayes said in a letter published by the UIL. “It was not our intention to force the issue that our son’s religious freedom was violated. Nor do we feel that way now. After discussing this with our son, we have come to the conclusion that his religious rights were not violated.”
Derrick Hayes released his own statement, saying:
“Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4x100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated.”
Gov. Rick Perry asked the University Interscholastic League on Friday to investigate why a high school track team was disqualified after one of the student athletes made what his father called a religious gesture.
The Columbus High School relay team was disqualified by a UIL judge at a regional meet on April 27 at Texas A&M Kingsville after a student engaged in an “unsporting act.”
In a press release issued Thursday, the UIL said the athlete broke a rule against such conduct. The league said the athlete “crossed the finish line and gestured upward with his arm and finger and behaved disrespectfully toward meet officials.”
“There is no indication that the decision was made because of any religious expression,’’ the league said. “This was a judgment call, as are many decisions of meet officials in all activities.”
According to press reports, the student's father, K.C. Hayes, has been widely quoted as saying the student was pointing to the heavens to thank God.
In his letter, Perry said he would “not tolerate the suppression of religious freedom anywhere.”
“It is unconscionable that a student athlete could be punished for an expression of religious faith or that an act of faith could disqualify an athlete in a UIL competition,” Perry said.
He urged the UIL to “investigate this incident thoroughly and take whatever action is necessary to ensure protection of religious freedom and expression at UIL competitions.”
A call placed to the UIL offices in Austin was not immediately returned.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.