Breckynn Willis, 17, is an Alaska high school swimmer who was disqualified during a swim meet over the fit of her swimsuit. Willis, one of the fastest swimmers in the state, was at a September 6 competition when her team-issued bathing suit rode up her backside during the race and exposed her buttocks.
On September 10, the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) reversed the referee’s decision and reinstated Willis’ win. The reinstatement came within an hour after receiving a letter from the Anchorage School District (ASD) requesting that Willis’ win be upheld. The reversal also resulted in the Dimond High School regaining points lost by Willis’ disqualification.
“This is as good or better as I could have hoped for,” West High School swim coach Lauren Langford told KTUU. Although she’s not Willis’ coach, Langford Willis’ story to the nation’s attention after writing a blog post about the incident. “What has been carried out on pool decks in Alaska over the last year is nothing short of racism, sexism, body-shaming, and child abuse,” she wrote.
Here’s what you need to know about Breckynn Willis.
1. The Referee Said Breckynn Willis’ Suit ‘Was so Far up I Could See Butt Cheek Touching Butt Cheek’
The incident happened while the Dimond High School student-athlete was competing at a meet against Chugiak High School in Anchorage. Halfway through the event, the main referee had to leave and referee Jill Blackstone took over.
After winning the 200 Individual Medley, the event’s second race, Blackstone disqualified Breckynn as she was gearing up for two more races. Blackstone said the high school senior had committed a “uniform violation,” and stripped the teen of her win.
Anita Rohde served as a meet official during the competition and said she was in “disbelief” by the disqualification. After the event, she asked Blackstone for an explanation. Blackstone responded by saying the back of Willis’ swimsuit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.”
“We have a term for it – it’s called a ‘suit wedgie,’ and if you’ve ever been a swimmer, you’ve had one,” Langford explained to the Anchorage Daily News.
2. A National Set of Guidelines Stated Swimmers Could Be Disqualified after a Race for Swimsuit Violations
The National Federation of State High School Associations has a list of swimsuit regulations which include a “modesty rule.” The rule requires a male’s swimsuit to cover the buttocks while a female’s swimsuit must cover the breasts and buttocks. Last August, the Federation notified coaches across the country about a rule change that allowed them to disqualify an athlete if a uniform was not within guidelines and if a change of attire would delay the race.
“When observed after the heat/dive officially begins, disqualify the competitor at the completion of the heat/dive; nullify the competitor’s performance time/score and he/she shall not be eligible for further competition until in a legal suit,” the Federation’s rules state.
The School District has asked that the rule been suspended until revised, stating that it “is ambiguous and allows the potential for bias to influence officials’ decisions.”
3. The School District Believes the Referee Also Targeted Breckynn Willis’ Sister & Has Asked That the Official Be Decertified
Blackstone was no stranger to Willis or her family. Dreamer Kowatch, Willis’ younger sister and also a competitive swimmer, was publicly criticized by Blackstone about the fit of her swimsuit during the 2018-19 school year.
Langford said that Dreamer has told friends and family she feels as though the community disapproves because her “specific body is not appropriate for competitive swimming.”
The School District has asked that Blackstone be decertified as an official, NBC 12 reported. The ASAA’s executive director Billy Strickland said the School District “believes Blackstone has targeted Willis and her sister, a fellow teammate, in a pattern of unfair enforcement over the past year.”
4. A Parent Secretly Photographed Willis & Circulated Photos ‘As Evidence That Her Attire Is Immoral’
Langford revealed that last year, a “rogue” team member’s parent took photos of Breckynn’s backside in a swimsuit “without her knowledge or consent,” and circulated the images online “as evidence that her attire is immoral.”
“She is a minor – that parent should be arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography,” Langford wrote. She went on to write that parents have been overheard saying that “for the sake of their sons, the mother of these young ladies should cover up her daughters.”
Rather than focusing on swimming, Langford believes that “girls of all shapes, sizes, and races are worrying about their suits like never before,” and shared that one girl who didn’t have the traditional swimmer physique told Langford she was going on a restrictive diet and would spend more time at the gym to slim down her backside to better comply with the “modesty rule.”
5. Langford Believes Willis Was Targeted ‘for the Way the Suit Fit Her Curvier, Fuller-Figured Body’
On September 7, Langford wrote “Alaska’s Swimsuit Scandal Unfairly Policies Young Girls’ Bodies.” Langford pointed out that Willis was wearing a regulation that matched the style worn by her teammates. She went on to say that Willis was targeted “for the way the suit fit her curvier, fuller-figured body.”
According to Langford, she’s seen tensions rise over swimsuit fit issues for the past year. “It has caused my own athletes to be needlessly self-conscious about the appearance of their bodies, which preoccupies them just as much, if not more, than the quality of their performances. Langford went on to say that it’s the girls’ bodies being policed rather than the uniforms.
Using diagrams, Langford showed how regulation uniforms don’t comply with the modesty standards set by the national federation. “Notice the high-cut backs to these suits – they’re not technically in compliance even before they get on the body of a swimmer, yet many high schools use these brands as their team suits.” After showing that the suits worn by all the swimmers didn’t meet the national federation’s standards she asked why only one swimmer had been disqualified.
These young swimmers aren’t being punished for wearing their suits in scandalous or provocative ways, but rather, because their ample hips, full chests, and dark complexions look different than their willowy, thin, and mostly pallid teammates.”