Seven-year-old Grayson Powell’s first bowling tournament had gone better than expected. Not only did he bowl the best game of his young life on Saturday by putting up a score of 171 (his average had been 103) in one of the five-pin games, but he helped lead his team to a first-place finish to earn the first gold medal. Or so he thought.
Just minutes before the award ceremony at St. Pat’s Bowling Lanes in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, tournament organizers pulled aside Grayson’s mother, Jennifer White, and the parents of the two other children on Grayson’s team to inform them the team had been disqualified. Grayson’s pants, apparently, weren’t the proper shade of black as dictated by the tournament’s uniform rules.
“They were black faded jeans,” Grayson’s father, Todd Powell, explained in a phone interview on Wednesday.
After several days of acrimony among the adults involved, Newfoundland’s Youth Bowling director Gord Davis announced on Facebook Wednesday evening that Grayson and his teammates would get their medals after all, though the league wouldn’t reverse the disqualification.
“[The kids] deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments even though we could not reverse our decision provincially because of the rules in place,” Davis wrote. “We will make sure these kids are taken care of first because that is what we are all about.”
“I’m happy with the decision they made, not just for my son, but his other two teammates and their accomplishments,” Powell said in a follow-up interview on Thursday. “But I’m not happy how all of this happened.”
Powell said while he was aware of the uniform rules before the tournament began, he and his wife had trouble finding a pair of black slacks that Grayson could comfortably bowl in and so they settled on the gray-hued jeans that morning. He said if his son’s pants really were a disqualifying issue, tournament organizers should have informed them during the 20-minute warm-up period that preceded the tournament. That would’ve given his wife time to go purchase more suitable slacks.
“That [option] wasn’t presented to my wife,” Powell said, noting during that warm-up, “No one questioned the color of his pants.”
Instead, Powell said the complaints only came in from opponent’s parents and coaches when Grayson and his team started to win the three-round tournament.
“If those kids didn’t bowl the way they did, it would’ve been a nonissue,” Powell said.
Davis, who helped to organize the tournament, denied that allegation in his original statement on Tuesday, noting, “[Grayson’s] team was not leading at the time and scores were not a determining factor of making the proper decision governing the rules of the dress code.”
On Wednesday, Davis called the situation “blown out of proportion” because of “communication problems.” He added, going forward, that all infractions at future tournaments will be reported before the competition begins.
Davis’s second statement took a decidedly different tone than his first, in which he criticized Powell and the other parents on the team, noting, “They need to search within their own program and see why this incident happened and stop blaming NL YBC and Gord Davis for something that should never had happened.”
Davis’s original statement also said he did not immediately bring the issue to the parents’ attention because he “was not going to embarrass those kids by stopping play and making a scene.”
Powell, meanwhile, said he would’ve rather Davis made a scene than allowed Grayson and the other children on his team to play on.
“I don’t really care about the medal,” he said. “It’s how you disqualify kids. … I look at it as a form of bullying, I really do.”
Powell said Grayson “got very upset” upon learning the news on Saturday and that it took a few moments to sink in when his mother told him.
“He knew he bowled well,” Powell said, noting Grayson was so excited for the tournament that he skipped a hockey game (which “he’s really passionate about”) to enter.
“He’s 7 years old. He’s competitive,” Powell explained, adding mostly, though, he was “there to have fun.”
Upon hearing the news that he would receive his medal after all, Grayson told his father “it was a special day.”
Not only does the resolution mean Grayson will get his award now, but he can also continue bowling with the program. In the immediate aftermath of the pants controversy, Powell had vowed not to enter his son in another NL YBC tournament without a public apology.
On Thursday, however, Powell said he’d allow Grayson to continue to bowl with the program.
“He’s excited to go back,” Powell said of his son, whom he shielded along with Grayson’s older sibling from the media while his story went viral.
“They don’t need to know. They’re kids,” Powell said of the drama.
Although it appears it wasn’t either party’s intention, the situation between Davis and Powell got personal at times, with Davis accusing Powell of “cursing and raising his voice” and Powell calling Davis “not one bit apologetic.”
The story’s happy ending comes as a welcome respite for all involved, including Davis, who agreed with Powell in his statement late Wednesday that it’s the kids who are most important.
“We want to ensure these kids stay in bowling and we do the best we can to help them grow with our sport,” Davis wrote.
With Grayson now gearing up to return to practice on Friday, it appears they’re on the right track.