Friday, October 31, 2008

Rays Fan's Support Doesn't Pass School Dress Code

If you ever wondered why the U.S. educational system is rated below that of many countries in the world, part of the blame may be attributed to the educated fools who run the system.

When 12-year-old Zachary Sharples showed up at Lincoln Middle School in Palmetto, Florida on the Monday before his favorite team was scheduled to take on the Boston Red Sox for the American League Championship, he was immediately hit with an in-school suspension for violating the dress code. His offense? Wearing a Mohawk in support of his heroes, the Tampa Bay Rays, who donned the stylish cut in the midst of their first winning season in franchise history.

Principal Curtis Davis had the good sense to refuse public comment, but the school dress code apparently banned “offensive hair.” Davis told Zachary that Mohawks, known in the Tampa Bay area as “Rayhawks,” violated school policy. “I had to go into something called camp,” Zach told The Tampa Tribune. “It was one room, the whole day and I couldn’t do anything. I just had to sit there.”

The courts have long justified school dress codes if they are directed at conduct that interferes with the learning environment or creates a potential safety issue in the classroom. Showing up for school naked or displaying gang paraphernalia on school property are obvious examples. But a Mohawk haircut, whose sole purpose is to support the area’s professional baseball team fighting for the pennant? Please.

Perhaps Curtis Davis is one reason why the Rays have had difficulty attracting fan support in the Tampa Bay area during their 11-year existence. While attendance in 2008 was up almost 400,000 over last year’s figure, the Rays still finished 26th out of 30 teams with an average of 22,259 fans per game.

True, the Rays play in a facility that is arguably the worst in professional sports. Tropicana Field has undergone two name changes and three renovations costing in excess of $100 million since it was constructed in 1990 for $130 million. While the current team owners and management have made every effort to make the facility fan friendly, “The Trop,” as it is not-so-affectionately known to locals, is reminiscent of the old saw about a pig: You can dress it up, but it’s still a pig.

In spite of sparse fan support, the Rays charged from the worst record in MLB last season to the second best record in the American League this year. With a host of young and talented players, the team is poised to be competitive for years to come.

During their break-out season, the players adopted the Mohawk look as a good luck charm. To show his support for the players, 54-year-old manager Joe Maddon embraced the look late in the season. Fortunately for the players and Maddon, neither MLB nor Rays’ management is as stuffy as the administration at Lincoln Middle School.

Here’s a suggestion for the Curtis Davis’ of the world: Spend your time and effort – not to mention our tax dollars – on educating the Zachary Sharples of this world instead of punishing them for “violations” of vague and irrelevant rules.

Why not turn youthful exuberance for a favorite sports team into a learning experience? Today’s students are woefully inept at the three R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Rather than sentencing Zach to a boring day of detention, why not assign a paper on the history of the Rays, which would require him to use his computer for something other than Facebook and downloading tunes? How about using math class for a study of player and team statistics?

Baseball is a perfect metaphor to teach students about American history, race relations, social history, business, culture and film. If that sounds too difficult, Davis could have challenged Zach and his classmates to improve their grades and agreed to get a Mohawk if they succeeded.

Any of the above actions – and many others like it – would have provided a positive learning experience to Zach and the entire student body at Lincoln Middle School. Instead, Principal Davis preferred to imitate the Grinch that stole Christmas. And the sports world – along with our educational system – is worse off for it.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at

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