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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2007
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Hat ban at Decatur, Austin basketball games to remain

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Despite continued opposition, Superintendent Sam Houston said a ban on hats and other safety measures taken last fall at Austin and Decatur high school basketball games were successful.

The headgear ban was part of procedures the board implemented in November just before the start of basketball season. The procedures also included selling tickets only to seating capacity, requiring each fan to have a seat and sit in that seat during the game to eliminate loitering and raising ticket prices $1 to pay for additional security.

"This was one of the smooth-est basketball seasons we've ever had," Houston said. "I think the measures they put in place increased the enjoyment and the safety at the games."

School officials wanted the ban as a measure to help deal with gangs trying to form in the city. Houston said the only fair way to keep students from wearing the colored doo rags or hats tilted a certain way was to ban everyone from wearing hats.

"The issue is not so much that we know who they are. The question is, can they identify each other?" Houston said. "We looked several ways of trying to decide what is inappropriate and we realized that the fairest way is to ban all headgear."

Houston's remarks came after Mack Lewis, speaking on behalf of three other black men in attendance at the meeting, asked the school board to reconsider its ban on caps, hats, toboggan hats, bandanas and doo rags.

Lewis said he hasn't been to an Austin or Decatur game this year. He showed the board photos of shirtless students with their chests painted and said that was more inappropriate than wearing a hat inside.

"We feel like this is something that was forced upon us," Lewis said. "My cap isn't bothering anybody. The people I talk to don't see the sense in it."

School board member Tommy Sykes, who voted for the plan, also tried to get the superintendent and board to reconsider. He said he voted for the ban because it was brought up as preventative measure. But neither Sykes nor his fellow board members made a formal motion to reconsider the ban.

"But now I don't see the reason for it all," Sykes said. "To my knowledge, there hasn't been any substantial reason for the ban. If it's because of the isolated, disruptive behavior of certain individuals, then we need to deal with them individually. I hate to see those gentlemen forced to take their hats off for no reason."

School board member Carol Sandlin agreed with Sykes, saying the board isn't banning headgear from baseball and football games, so the rules are not consistent.

"If you told people they could
not wear a hat outside, you'd have a major uproar," she said.

Sykes suggested requiring people to wear their hats properly, but Houston said it would be difficult for security to enforce such a requirement.

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