How cool is that?
Serene Kergaye’s religion is important to her — so important that she wears a headscarf, long sleeves and long pants even when she’s on the soccer field at Cottonwood High School.
Kergaye is Muslim, and the monochromatic clothes she wears under her uniform during games don’t bother her one bit. They are a way to uphold the modesty standards that are part of her faith.
“It’s really thin and loose. It’s not that hot, I don’t think,” she said. “Yeah, I look kind of weird on the field. I’ll be dressed head to toe in one color, because we have to be either white or black, but oh well, I’d rather play.”
While her coach acknowledges other teams might “do a double take” when they see Kergaye from the sidelines, her teammates know her personally and see beyond the differences.
“She’s just a very sweet person anyway, and the girls just … they love her,” said coach Angela Hamilton.
Kergaye’s uniform might look different compared to her teammates, but state athletic directors say uniform accommodations are built into the rules for every sport in order to protect religious expression.
“(We want) to allow the individuals to maintain practices and still compete,” said Bart Thompson, assistant director of the Utah High School Activities Association.
Each sport has specific rules for uniforms that participants must follow. But within those rules are accommodations for students like Kergaye, who want to play, but have special requirements.
“The rules are written to promote fair, even competition for everybody,” Thompson said. “If you’ve got a situation that doesn’t fundamentally alter the competition, you’re going to be OK.”
In Kergaye’s case, it was a non-issue, since the extra clothing she wears as part of her religious expression in no way impede or alter the way the game is played.
There are similar accommodations for students with prosthetic limbs, religious jewelry and other special circumstances. Thompson said schools always want to encourage participation, so if an accommodation for a specific situation isn’t written into the rule, they’ll find a way to make it work. That’s what happened a few years ago when a Jewish high school student with a beard joined the wrestling team. Rules for wrestling prohibit beards.
The UHSAA obtained permission from the National Federation of State High School Associations that allowed the student to wear a special face mask during play.
“Schools are asking for accommodations to be made in that regard rather than denying,” Thompson said.
Kergaye jumps at the opportunity to show other people the things they have in common and dispel false perceptions.
“We don’t sit in our basements all day and make bombs,” she said. “We play soccer, we play football.”
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