11-year-old Cottonwood student benched after refusing to wear dress
Cottonwood, Calif. —
An 11-year-old junior high basketball player in Cottonwood was benched after she chose not to wear a dress to their home game, as it's a tradition at West Cottonwood School.
Rachel Manfredina plays on their junior high girl's basketball team, the Chieftains, and was not allowed to play in the Tuesday's game after she chose not wear a dress because it made her feel self-conscious.
"I wasn't like trying to be defiant or anything, I don't feel comfortable wearing dresses and stuff," said Rachel.
West Cottonwood has a long-standing tradition for the boys and girls basketball teams to wear formal like attire to their home games.
"All three of the [coaches] was explaining to the whole team like it's a tradition for the girls to wear dresses or skirts and the boys wear ties and like slacks. And they were saying it was like a tradition for 40 years and how we represent our school and at the very end I could tell like I felt they were kind of pointing it at me because I was the only one in there who wasn't wearing a dress or a skirt and It just kind of hurt inside, I guess," said Rachel.
Rachel's mother Kimberly Schaal said she wrote a letter to the principal asking if they could reconsider the policy and after she had her daughter drop off the letter at the school, she received a call.
"I received a phone call from the athletics director and he informed me if she does not wear a dress or a skirt she cannot play," said Kimberly.
Rachel had no choice but to take the bench and stand on the sideline watching her team play without her
"I felt like it was my fault kind of, you know? I felt like self-conscious. Like my teammates, they were like helping, they were saying 'oh it's okay, its okay' and I felt sad that I wasn't able to play. And I wasn't able to play not because I had a bad attitude or because I was not having a good day in class but because I didn't wear a dress or a skirt to school."
Hours after the Chieftains lost their home game, Kimberly went to the Cottonwood Union School board meeting, hoping to express to the board members her concerns for her daughter. She said she felt her concerns were being heard.
Kimberly expressed that it's not just about her daughter Rachel being benched because she didn't want to wear a dress, but for other students who may not feel comfortable and giving students the right to wear what makes them feel comfortable and not be punished for it.
"I don't want it to be 'okay', Rachel can wear pants, and that's the end of it. I want it to be that no girl at any school is going to be told she cannot participate in a sport because she won't wear a dress to school and I want that just to be their new rule. I probably [will] not stop until I see something in writing that states that girls will have an equal option as boys to wear what they want and the same would go for a boy too. If a boy wanted to wear a dress because that's how he would feel comfortable, then he should be allowed too, " said Kimberly.
Cottonwood Union School District Superintendent, Douglas Geren, said he plans on reaching out to Rachel's mom to discuss a solution and make possible adjustments, and according to Kimberly, they will.
Kimberly said she spoke with the superintendent and the principal and they agreed to change their policy of requiring female athletes to wear skirts or dresses on the days of their home games. Instead, they will require the female athletes to dress nicely. Kimberly said Geren apologized to her and she said she appreciates them for handling the situation quickly.
Rachel can now play the game she loves and expressed enthusiastically what basketball means to her.
"Amazing... like being the tallest girl on the court is pretty awesome."