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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2006
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Decatur Schools Superintendent Sam Houston sits bare-headed amid a crowd of cap-wearers at Thursday's meeting at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center on the banning of headwear at Decatur and Austin high school basketball games. Although evidently cognizant of etiquette expert Emily Post's dictate about men wearing hats indoors,  Houston said he would talk to the high school principals about possibly making change to the new rules.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Decatur Schools Superintendent Sam Houston sits bare-headed amid a crowd of cap-wearers at Thursday's meeting at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center on the banning of headwear at Decatur and Austin high school basketball games. Although evidently cognizant of etiquette expert Emily Post's dictate about men wearing hats indoors, Houston said he would talk to the high school principals about possibly making changes to the new rules.

Mad as hatters
over cap ban

Older generation voices displeasure with no-hat policy at basketball games

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

About 25 citizens, most over 60 and all wearing caps or hats, said they are not happy that the Decatur school board voted last month to ban hats at Austin and Decatur high school basketball games.

The men had a coming-to-cap meeting with Superintendent Sam Houston on Thursday morning at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center. Most attend games regularly, and several have grandchildren playing on the high school teams.

They told Houston and school board member Tommy Sykes that wearing a hat is part of their dress style. They said they take their hats off if they're at a business meeting or in church and for the national anthem, pledge of allegiance or prayer.

"Some men wear a hat from the time they get up in the morning, and that's black and white men," Erline French Gray said. "People over 60 years old are used to wearing a hat on their head in cold weather."

Houston said the hat ban is among new rules a committee of school administrators and coaches recommended in an effort to curb and control possible gang activity.

"I don't see how that outlaws gang activity," said Mack Lewis, who missed the two schools' season openers for the first time in many years because of the hat ban.

Cleve Jarmon, a former city employee, said he doesn't see how banning hats is an effective way to control gang activities. He said school officials should let them wear their caps.

"If you can identify gangs by the hats they wear, how can you identify them if you don't let them wear them?" Jarmon said. "Let them leave it on and then watch and observe their activities. If the hat is an identifying mark, he did your job for you."

Jarmon asked Houston if the school board is also going to ban hats at outside football games. Jarmon said he doesn't like being told he can't do something that he believes he should be free to do. He compared the hat ban to the segregation era, when the country had separate water fountains for blacks and whites.

Gang 'trappings'

Houston said school officials began noticing this summer that two groups of young people are trying to use the "trappings and aspects of some of the national gangs," although he doesn't believe they've aligned themselves with these groups.

A committee of school administrators and basketball coaches met before the season to discuss game security. They recommended, and the board approved, new rules that include requiring selling tickets only up to capacity so everyone has a seat and requiring everyone to remain in those seats unless they are going to the concession stand or restroom. The board also increased ticket prices by $1 to pay for additional security guards.

Houston said hats became a fairness issue because the committee couldn't agree if school officials could fairly decide who could or couldn't wear hats, caps or head coverings such as doo rags.

"If you say an adult can wear a hat, but students can't, who is an adult?" Houston asked. "Does a 19-year-old who just finished school or dropped out count as an adult? Should we start checking identifications and set an arbitrary cutoff (age)? The most equitable thing to do is make everyone take their hat off."

Houston said the committee and the board's goal is to have a good ballgame and let the players be the focus of attention while teaching students the right way to act in a safe environment.

Former school board member Collis Stevenson said he wasn't speaking for or against the hat ban, but he understands school officials' reasoning.

Jackson: Ban unfair

City Council President Billy Jackson commended school officials for trying to control gangs, but said he doesn't think they need an all-inclusive ban against hats. He said it's not fair to everyone when they are only trying to control specific groups.

He said hats aren't the only things that gangs use as identification. Some may wear the colors red or blue, but school officials aren't telling other people they can't wear red or blue. He pointed out that none of the people's hats in the meeting had anything offensive on them.

"If you're targeting a specific group, then you need to focus on them," Jackson said.

Sykes said the board heard the principals' concerns and followed their wishes, not realizing how the community would rebel against the ban. He said he thinks the board could make changes that allow the wearing of hats without compromising safety.

Houston said he would talk to the principals about possibly making some changes to the new rules, "but they're the ones who deal directly with the students and I'll support whatever they want to do."

Pastor Johnny Marshall reminded the group that "you are the bosses" because they elected the school board and they pay the taxes to support them. If they don't like the hat ban, they should boycott the games, he said.

"If you can't wear a hat at the game, don't go in," Marshall said. "Don't spend any money at the game."

Chief Photographer Gary Lloyd contributed to this story.

Is that a cap or a hat?

Caps have crowns that fit closer than hats and have no brim or only a visor.

Hats have a high crown, a brim, or both and are larger than caps.

Etiquette: Many people consider it impolite for men to wear head coverings indoors, especially in churches and when sitting at a table for a meal. This doesn't apply to head coverings for religious reasons.

Wikipedia

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