ASAA votes unanimously in favor of removing controversial swimsuit rule

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska School Activities Association has officially removed a controversial rule related to the fit of athletes' swimsuits used during school competitions.

ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland said the ASAA board voted Tuesday to eliminate the rule that contributed to uproar this past fall after state champion swimmer Breckynn Willis, of Dimond High School in Anchorage, was disqualified from a heat she'd already won. The judge who made the call cited the rule and what she had determined as the inappropriate fit of Willis’ team-issued swimsuit.

"A lot of sports rules are subjective - what's holding in football, what's a foul in wrestling? - but I think in this case, it took a subjective approach to something that really wasn't impactful of the game itself," Strickland said.

[RELATED: High school swimmer disqualified over fit of school-issued swimsuit]

Willis was in a school-issued women's uniform worn by her fellow teammates. The same style, fit and cut can also be found in use by other ASAA-sanctioned swim teams.

"Here in Alaska, I do not feel anyone on that deck is doing anything other than swimming hard and doing their best and wearing a uniform," said Joey Caterinichio, a veteran swim and dive official who also has a long history officiating snow sports at the national and world level. Regarding the uniform rule, she said: "You don't know it's a mistake until it happens, and they acted upon it and did the right thing."

With a prompt from a competing school's coach who shared her account of the incident online, the Anchorage School District responded to the call within days, defending Willis and maintaining judge Jill Blackstone was biased in her application of the rule. ASD requested a reversal of the call, and the ASAA obliged shortly thereafter.

Blackstone's certification was in question for a few months following the incident, but the ASAA decided she should retain it.

The board will next meet in February of 2020, followed by another session in April. Strickland said those meetings, and perhaps others, will be used in part to determine whether or not new wording needs to be attached to the uniform rule, which has been simplified to only require that athletes' uniforms be one piece.

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