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Decision to disqualify Alaska swimmer over bathing suit is overturned

The disqualification of Dimond High School swimmer Breckynn Willis, 17, drew allegations of discrimination based on body shape.

The decision to disqualify a winning high school swimmer because the Alaska athlete's swimsuit showed too much of her backside has been reversed.

The state's governing body for high school sports on Tuesday overturned the ruling about Dimond High School swimmer Breckynn Willis, 17, who was disqualified after a win Friday during a dual meet against Chugiak High School, according to NBC affiliate KTUU of Anchorage.

The school district appealed the ruling, and the Alaska School Activities Association sided with the district, finding that rules require that the coach be notified of illegal attire before the heat or dive — and in this case, that did not happen.

"All evidence gathered, including the statement provided by the official, indicated the official did not notify the coach prior to disqualifying the student," the Alaska School Activities Association said in a statement.

The disqualification was made in error and is being overturned, it said, and “all team and individual points shall be restored to both the individual swimmer and the Dimond High School Swim team."

Dimond High School is in Anchorage.

Alaska follows national high school standards that call for male swimmers to have their buttocks covered and for girls to have both their buttocks and breasts covered.

Willis was wearing a school-issued swimsuit that follows the requirements put forth by the high school sport's governing body, a district statement on Monday said.

The district said in a statement Tuesday that it reviewed the incident and that "the Anchorage School District has concluded that our swimmer was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body."

"We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape," the district said. "This disqualification was heavy-handed and unnecessary."

Willis is one of Alaska's top female swimmers, winning state titles in the 200-meter freestyle and 100- meter butterfly last year. Her sister, Dreamer Kowatch, is also a top performer in the pool, having won Alaska's 500-meter freestyle in 2018.

The girls' mother, Meagan Kowatch, told KTUU that Dreamer had a run-in with the same referee who openly critiqued her suit's fit during a meet.

The Anchorage School District said in the statement Tuesday, which appears to have been issued before the state board’s decision, that it also wanted the official who made Friday’s call to be decertified.

An email to the district seeking comment about the reversal of the disqualification was not immediately returned Tuesday night.

ASAA executive director Billy Strickland has previously said that Willis should have been penalized only if the athlete intentionally hiked up her gear to expose her body.

In guidance sent out to its swim and dive officials, the ASAA referenced that rule regarding the rolling up of swimsuits, and it said that "ASAA believes students are not intentionally rolling up their swimsuits in this manner."

It said that officials should assume school-issued uniforms are legal, and if there is any potential issue, the coach should be notified under the rules, it said.