COLUMBUS, Texas – An investigation by the UIL found no evidence that a Columbus runner was disqualified for expressing religious beliefs after crossing the finish line.
The Columbus 4x100 meter relay team won the race at conference regional on April 27. The win would have qualified them to advance to the state championship.
Instead, the referee disqualified them based on the behavior of runner Derrick Hayes.
Hayes’ father told KHOU 11 News last week that his son was punished for pointing up to the sky in a gesture that signified giving thanks to God.
"It was a reaction," father KC Hayes said. "I mean, you’re brought up your whole life that God gives you good things, you’re blessed."
After reviewing videos of the race, interviewing witnesses and speaking with Derrick and his parents, the UIL backed up the decision to DQ the team.
In a statement released Monday, the UIL said Derrick Hayes was disqualified for "behaving disrespectfully," after a referee warned him about raising his hand after crossing the finish line.
"The UIL has concluded the investigation and has found no evidence to suggest that the disqualification took place as a result of the student-athlete expressing religious beliefs," the statement said.
Derrick and his parents submitted letters to the UIL confirming that his religious freedoms were not violated.
"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 the letter. "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."
"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," Derrick Hayes said in his letter. "With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated."
The UIL said Monday it will work to create a clearer definition of the rules regarding unsportsmanlike conduct at high school competitions.