Liam Nazarek is a 16 year old Pincher Creek athlete. He has been growing his hair for a year with the plan to donate it in September to make wigs for kids with cancer, an issue close to his heart. On Wednesday evening this week he was forced to choose: cut his hair or be barred from playing for his baseball team, Pincher Creek’s Junior Dust Devils.
At the commencement of Wednesday’s Dust Devils home opener against Cardston Liam was told he would not be allowed to play, because his hair had not been cut. “He has been told that he can’t play on the local baseball team. He hasn’t been asked to leave the team, he has just been told that he can’t play. So he sat on the bench for the game last night,” said his mother Kimberly Jorgenson.
Jorgenson and Coach Bryan Mackenzie exchanged words before the game about the situation, and that encounter was videotaped and posted to Facebook by Jorgenson, and is excerpted in part below.
“It’s not part of baseball,” said Jorgenson. “It’s part of my baseball team, okay, if you want to coach, there’s the team…” replied Mackenzie.
“These are becoming young men, they can make some decisions on their own, I said make some effort.”
“I said it’s an admirable cause (cancer),” he said to Liam, “You could have mentioned that to me on Thursday night, right, last Thursday (at practice) that that was the reason. I’m not going to say it was going to make any difference, but if that was the difference on last night it should have been then too.”
“I’m talking as a coach of a team that I’m trying to set an example for, 9 other players…”
“Hair is not a rule in baseball,” said Jorgenson. “It is for me, accept it,” replied Mackenzie.
Liam elected to stay in the dugout to cheer the team on for most of the game, and was allowed to do so.
The haircut rule isn’t a new one, long-time coach Mackenzie has insisted on it for years, and in the past it has been a relatively minor subject of interviews I’ve conducted with him. “That’s my job as a coach, is to develop character, not so much to catch the ball and throw the ball, that’ll come, but it’s character in these young people,” he told me after the game when summing up his coaching philosophy.
At the game I was approached by several of Liam’s friends, who were unhappy with the situation. I invited them to write a letter to the editor on the subject, which may be forthcoming. A couple of other local coaches also voiced their concerns about the situation, including Todd Merrick, who is the Pincher Creek Mustangs Coach for Special Teams and also coaches Bantam level Mustangs. Merrick coaches from a wheelchair.
“I coached Liam in Football over the last two seasons,” he said. “I think it’s a form of discrimination. It shouldn’t be tolerated in sports. It’s no different than discriminating against the disabled. Sports are about athletic ability, it has nothing to do with how you look.”
“It definitely affects your confidence when you put all your effort into going to practices, and working out, and working as a team and then someone says you are not allowed to play just because you haven’t cut your hair. It does affect your ego, and growth,” Merrick continued.
“If he wasn’t someone that stood up for himself, he would be like the three other players that cut their hair, because of the coach. I’m very proud of him for standing up for himself.”
“Of course you have to have discipline, but it has nothing to do with what you look like. If a kid doesn’t show up for practice, or do what they are told to do on the field that’s one thing, but this is based on what you look like, and I find that crazy.”
According to Kim Jorgenson “Liam decided awhile ago that he would like to grow his hair. September is Cancer Month, so he is going to shave his head, and donate his hair to make wigs for kids with cancer.” Liam spends time in the summer participating in drumming and dancing ceremonies with the the Aboriginal Heiltsuk Nation on the west coast. “He decided over the summer (2013) that he was going to grow it out, and he hasn’t cut it since.”
“It all ties together. He is very involved, and I respect him for his decision to do that. I thought it was big decisions for a kid. He’s looked into different requirements from different foundations (for donating hair). He would like it to stay in Canada, so he has been looking at different groups that stay within Canada.”
“What was asked of him is that ‘he make an effort to change his hair’. Last night for the game he had me french braid his hair, and you couldn’t tell how long his hair was. He made an effort last night to tie his hair back and have it out of the way, to have it not be an issue.”
“I’m proud of Liam for standing up for himself. I support him in that. I made sure that he understood that in doing that there is always a repercussion. As long as he remains respectful, and stays the good kid that he is, I think things will turn out the way they should be.”
“He’s played baseball every year, since he was little. He loves baseball, he umpires for them, and has been for two years.”
“I agree that they have to listen to their coach, they have to be respectful of their coach, they need to learn from their coach. That’s the point of coach. The coach’s responsibility is to be fair. It shouldn’t be about how you look.”
I believe the kids have to take direction from the coach, that’s the point of having a coach. What I don’t believe is how you look dictating whether you are a part of the team.”
Liam is considering signing up for spring football or soccer instead of baseball this year.