Runner disqualified over hijab inspires new Ohio legislation

COLUMBUS (AP) — A new legislative proposal to help protect student-athletes’ religious expression was inspired by an Ohio teen disqualified from a cross-country race last fall because she was wearing a hijab without a required waiver, the lawmaker sponsoring the bill said.

The bill introduced Wednesday by Republican Sen. Theresa Gavarone, of Bowling Green, would prohibit schools and school sports regulators from requiring advance waivers or otherwise restricting participants’ religious apparel unless it causes a “legitimate danger” for fellow competitors.

The proposal was supported by Noor Abukaram, the Sylvania Northview runner who was disqualified over her hijab last fall.

At the time, Ohio High School Athletic Association rules banned most head coverings and caps unless competitors got waivers in advance if they needed exemptions for religious reasons. Her coach has acknowledged making a mistake by not getting a waiver but indicated he hadn’t thought it was needed because it hadn’t been an issue at prior races.

OHSAA has since changed its rules to let referees approve use of religious head coverings if a coach asks before a competition, without a formal waiver.