The quest to reveal the chest


City of Sioux Falls

The SFSD Instructional Planning Center (IPC)

By Will Howes, Lincoln High School

Over the past few weeks, LHS XC runners have become increasingly agitated over the enforcement of a policy mandating athletes wear shirts during practice. Perhaps even more frustrating is the labyrinth of failed attempts to justify why the rule exists in the first place.

The stated goal of the SFSD administration is to “educate and prepare each student to succeed in a changing world.” In order to do so, it is understandable that certain concessions must be made by individual students in order to maximize the success of the student body as a whole. However, to quote LHS principal Robert Grimm, “It’s hard to have a policy or procedure in place if there’s not a rational explanation to go with it.”

LHS Athletic Director Joey Struwe is a vocal supporter of the rule and has, “always thought that’s how it should be.”

“The idea is that our activities are classrooms, and we have a dress code in school; we have a dress code in our activities,” said Struwe. “You wouldn’t go shirtless to class, or through the hallways, so it extends to our activities.”

Though Struwe’s maintains that classrooms extend into activities and should, therefore, be subject to the same policies, many LHS extracurriculars depart from this standard.

For example, golf coach Jeffrey Halseth and assistant tennis coach Andrew Krueger acknowledged that athletes in their respective sports are allowed to wear hats and sunglasses, both items that are not allowed to be worn during standard school hours. With mid-thigh length shorts and markedly tight tops, the volleyball uniforms contradict Struwe’s claim as well. Volleyball coach Emily Palmer has an easy explanation for the exception.

“No, [the volleyball uniform] doesn’t meet the regular school dress code,” said Palmer. “I think it’s [allowed] just because it’s the widely accepted uniform in volleyball everywhere, professional and otherwise.”

Struwe also argues that heat is not a major concern.

“You can do things to mitigate, I mean if you are hot, when you’re running. You wear light colored, loose fitting clothing. It’s not a safety issue. I’ve walked around the desert in full camo gear in 125, 130 degree heat. And I survived. It is not a health issue. When you’re wearing a kevlar helmet, and a flak jacket and carrying a 40 pound bag of gear, come and talk to me about how difficult it is. I’ve run in [Sioux Falls], and I’ve done that. I’m just saying, it’s not a safety issue,” said Struwe.

District AD Casey Meile echoed a similar sentiment.

“The great thing is, we live in an age and time where– man, some of that moisture management stuff, that heat-gear so to speak that they make, it’s almost better that you do wear that, and it cools a lot better than just not having a shirt,” said Meile.

While athletic engineering mitigates many of the same problems that going shirtless aims to solve, to say they’re the same is simply false; moreover, that high-end heat gear comes at a high price. Performance is greatly affected by an athlete’s ability to cool off during a workout, and those who can’t afford a wardrobe full of dri-FIT t-shirts are at major disadvantage when their cotton-blends just aren’t up to the task- as if it weren’t already difficult enough for economically-disadvantaged students to enter the athletic arena.

But of course, Meile’s greatest concern is inclusion.

“Now, there’s certain types of situations that we don’t think of all the time that might prevent a kid from going out,” said Meile. “One of those might be an overweight girl going out, and just being conscious of ‘Hey, I wanna go out, and maybe not to be the best runner in the state, but be a part of this great culture, experience a great program, teamwork, all those type of things. But I’m a little nervous because I know all those girls take off their [tops]. And what are boys going to think of me? If I am a little thicker, or whatever, if I have a birth defect.’ And same thing [goes] for a male.”

While all people, regardless of body type, should feel welcome in athletics, Meile’s claim that shirts promote inclusivity reeks of virtue-signaling. If students feel alienated because of body insecurities, shirts aren’t a solution. We don’t tell attractive people to hide their faces because ugly people might feel offended. We don’t tell smart people to act dumb because people who struggle might feel inferior. Everyone has a different strength, but we don’t hide our strengths to cope with another’s weakness; we help others find strengths of their own.

As it stands, the current policy focuses more on hiding body insecurity than encouraging body positivity. This is the problem. We should be telling all students to be proud of their bodies, to embrace who they are. We should be telling kids to be kind. But it’s far easier to hide that responsibility under a shirt.

Beyond the contradictions riddled throughout the policy, there is a perplexing lack of evidence that the policy accomplishes anything at all.

“There’s never been a study,” said Meile. “And to be real with you, if we did have those type of answers, then we wouldn’t be in the place we’re in in our society right now. Unfortunately, we don’t find out until someone makes the decision to hurt someone.”

Fortunately in the SFSD, there has been no history of violence related to shirtless runners or crimes specifically directed at shirtless individuals. It is unlikely this is due to a policy that has only been enforced for the last three weeks. That does not, however, dissuade Struwe from painting shirtless runners as unwelcome in the community.

“It may be [acceptable] in the running community, but what about in the rest of the community? You know, we’re not just representing one segment of our community,” said Struwe. “And again, these rules are adopted and set forth by the school board for those purposes. So who’s making the rules then? The community. Because the school board takes input from the community. The school board is made up of the community. So, therefore, the community is represented in making those rules by default because those board members are elected.”

It’s true that our school board is based around a representative democracy and the representatives are there to represent our views, not theirs. This is why the time has come to clarify the views of the community. I challenge every runner, athlete, body-having individual to attend the next School Board Meeting on Monday, Oct. 8 at the Instructional Planning Center (IPC) at 5:30 p.m. to clear things up. See you there.

This story was originally published on The Statesman on September 24, 2018.