Pointing to God excessive: Teen athlete barred from state track tourney

After crossing the finish line in first place, Derrick Hayes gestured toward heaven to show thanks to God, his father said. But that motion was deemed excessive celebration by officials and Hayes was disqualified, barring him from competing in the state championship.

Professional athletes gesture to heaven after scoring victories for their team so often it tends to go unnoticed. But in high school, pointing to the skies might be enough to earn an "excessive celebration" penalty. A Texas high schooler, who anchored his track team's 4x100 meter relay, motioned to God after crossing the finish line in first place. The gesture caused race officials to disqualify the 17-year-old, and his relay group, costing them a trip to the state championship.

Derrick Hayes, a junior at Columbus High School in Columbus, Tex., crossed the finish line in first place and pointed upward toward God, his father, KC Hayes, told KHOU in Houston.

“It was a reaction. You’re brought up your whole life that God gives you good things, you’re blessed," he said. 

As news of the disqualification spread, Texas officials weighed in through social media. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot tweeted, "Disgraceful: Winning track team disqualified for praising God," to his 15,000 followers, 148 of whom retweeted it. 

President Jonathan Saenz of Austin-based Texas Values, an advocacy group focusing its political efforts on promoting "faith, family, and freedom," said in an interview with Fox 7 in Austin, "How devastating for a high school track athlete, obviously a star athlete, a member of a team, to be punished for an expression of his religious faith."

While a Columbus resident interviewed by KHOU said she didn't understand why Derrick's expression of faith was excessive, the school district's superintendent did. 

According to KHOU:

Columbus ISD Superintendent Robert O’Connor said the team had won the race by seven yards. It was their fastest race of the year.

Though O’Connor cannot say why the student pointed, he says it was against the rules that govern high school sports. The rules state there can be no excessive act of celebration, which includes raising the hands.

“I don’t think that the situation was technically a terrible scenario as far as his action, but the action did violate the context of the rule,” Supt. O’Connor said.

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