A Woodbridge High School freshman will be allowed to return to the basketball team after the school system reversed a coach's long-standing ban on cornrows.
Kevin Pope, 15, made the freshman squad but was told before his first scrimmage that he wouldn't be able to play because of Coach Will Robinson's ban on the hairstyle.
Kevin's mother, Conchita Wanzer, hired a lawyer, who met with school staff members Monday. Three days after the meeting, school system attorney Mary McGowan said that Kevin would be allowed to return to the team, as would any other students who were asked to leave because of their hair.
Robinson's rule did not "directly affect the safety and health of the students or the educational goals of the program," McGowan wrote in a letter to the family's attorney.
"I'm pretty excited. I can't wait to get back on the team," Kevin said Friday. He and his parents plan to meet with Robinson and school officials tomorrow to try to ease any bad feelings.
Robinson, a coach at Woodbridge for 16 years, said that he would follow the guidelines, but that the media have wrongly focused on hair in the dispute. To him, it's a broader issue of how student athletes should present themselves on and off the court.
"I don't necessarily have any problems with cornrows or braids," Robinson said, adding that he has worn both styles. "The issues of hair and how we wear our hair and how we appear have been a concern of mine."
Asking students to adhere to his appearance standards is a part of the teamwork and sacrifice needed for them to succeed, he said. He told a story of one young man who wanted to be on the team but had not cut his hair in seven years.
"We have to do things that we don't care to do sometimes in order to be successful in life," Robinson said he explained to him. The player cut his hair.
Robinson said the policy change won't affect how the team functions. He said he considers the team "an extension of the families."
"I'm certainly happy that it's been resolved," Robinson said. "It was never my intention that this would be personal in nature. We'll continue to set standards in regards to academics, we'll continue to set standards in terms of conduct and appearance, and we'll continue to produce quality young men."
Kevin's mother said she also was pleased by the outcome. She said that she tried to talk to Robinson about her son's hair, but that she was rebuffed. Kevin also didn't want to cut it, she said.
Wanzer also noticed that students involved in other school activities, including her son Keith, were able to wear cornrows with no restrictions. Keith, a sophomore, is on the cheering squad and crew team.
"To have rules, it has to be evenly applied to everybody," Wanzer said.
Prince William officials acknowledged as much, saying in a statement that the school division "has decided to review the practices of its athletic programs to ensure uniformity in application and to bring those policies up to date."
McGowan said that similar hairstyle bans would be lifted across the county, unless they can be shown to impair safety and health.