JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As parents remain confused and frustrated over whether flag football players with long hair can play in a Christian sports league, the executive director of the church said Thursday that he and the league are working toward a "mutually beneficial outcome."
The development comes after parents told the I-TEAM that it was announced during a team meeting Tuesday that the Regency-area Impact Christian Academy boys flag football team was told the team could not play in the Sunshine Christian League games because some of the players' hair violated league rules. According to the Sunshine Christian League, however, the team can still play, but players whose hair violates league rules cannot.
"Male players, coaches and support staff (time-keepers, etc.) must have a neat, trim, conservative haircut. The hair is to be tapered or blocked and is to be off the collar. It is to be above the ears. Dying or coloring the tips of the hair, cornrows, twists or dreadlocks are not allowed. Curly hair should be short, not more than 1 inch in length."
Parents told the I-TEAM that they were not aware of the league's rules regarding hair beforehand.
"You are supposed to be a mentor, supporting your league and supporting them, and instead you are causing chaos," parent Jillian Eagle said Thursday. "If anything, you are taking away their ambition and passion for what they do."
A photo shows the Impact Christian Academy flag football team, a group of predominantly black boys around 12 years old. Some players in the photo have twists, dreads or short Afros. Parents said they believe the league's rules target players.
According to several parents, the team played and won two league games against Victory Christian School in Valdosta and Calvary Christian Academy in Middleburg, and then the team learned its next three games were canceled.
Eagle said the news was hard for the players to understand.
"It's kind of heartbreaking. I seen his whole demeanor change. It makes you lose a little faith," Eagle said about her son.
Eagle continued, "They are very confused. And then for you to say, 'You are not going to play us at all,' then you feel a little heat and say, 'We will play them, but we will bench the ones that are not suitable.'"
Bruce Armstrong, one of the charter members of Sunshine Christian League and the senior pastor at West Meadows Baptist Church, told the I-TEAM by phone Wednesday that the team was not kicked out of the league. He said the team has several players whose hair is out of compliance with league standards and the team can play without those team members.
"I am communicating with the leadership of Impact Church & school. I am currently waiting to hear back from them so have no comment at this time," reads an email that he also sent to the I-TEAM on Wednesday.
The executive director of administration for the Impact Church of Jacksonville on Thursday sent an email to the I-TEAM, saying, "I was able to have a good conversation with (Sunshine Christian League Commissioner) Dr. (Bruce) Armstrong today. We will be following up to work towards a mutually beneficial outcome."
The I-TEAM reached out to the commissioner of the league again, but did not hear back Thursday.