On Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, history was made in the state of Iowa. Possibly the most important victory for female equality since the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. On the grassy field of the Webster City Links Golf Course, women earned the right to wear mustaches during cross country races.
The obsession with mustaches started last year at our first meet of the season. The young man from SE Valley who won the first meet did so sporting the finest mustache anyone had ever seen on a high school boy. Myriam, Maya, and I became obsessed. Who was this Mustache Man? What unearthly powers did he possess? As we saw him throughout the season, his legend only grew (along with his facial hair).
We could barely contain our excitement when we saw him at the first meet this season. Myriam’s obsession had grown into full-blown teenage crush territory. We had no idea that a plan was forming in her mind.
The team bus ride to Webster City was the same as always: everyone talking excitedly about their day, using nervous energy to keep the conversation flowing, and helping each other with homework. Toward the end of the ride, I turned to tell Myriam something. When I did, I died laughing. She had discretely placed a hairy, black mustache above her upper lip. She looked like Super Mario.
She then offered mustaches to Maya and me, each with their own style and personality. Myriam’s was “The Shady,” Maya’s looked like a Dandy, and I was “The Outlaw.” We stepped off the bus and marched across the course with our thick, luxurious ‘staches.
Every head turned as we passed by. Giggles erupted. Pointing and laughing ensued. I have never felt as self-conscious in my life as I did for the few hours I wore that mustache. But I couldn’t let my girls down. If they were brave enough to wear their mustaches in public, then I had to be brave, too.
Myriam asked if she could run her race while wearing her mustache. I knew cross country officials were notoriously picky about dress code violations. One of the main ways to get DQ’d from a cross country race is to have a uniform violation. But I didn’t think there was anything specifically against girls wearing mustaches, probably because it’s never happened before. I told the girls that they might get disqualified, but as their coach, I would support their personal decision. They could wear the ‘staches if they wanted to, even if it resulted in punishment. People might be furious with me for allowing it, but one of my core beliefs is that teens have a right to freely express themselves without judgement from adults.
Myriam started her JV race, mustache in place. As soon as the race started, the officials noticed. They drove their golf cart to the side of the course, and made a phone call. Our bus driver came over to warn me: they were making a call to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (the governing body for female sports) in Des Moines to see if mustaches were legal.
Fifteen minutes passed with my heart thumping. Maya stood next to me, waiting for her race, waiting to hear the ruling. The officials drove over, my heart pounding. As they pulled up to me, they broke into smiles.
“We called Des Moines. They couldn’t find anything specifically against girls wearing mustaches in the rules. They said it was up to our discretion if we found it insulting to the sport. We can’t see that it’s doing any harm to anyone here. Congratulations, Coach.”
I couldn’t contain myself. I high-fived both of them and ran across the course to my rightful place on the sidelines cheering as my runners passed. It was a victory. A victory that might not have mattered to anyone other than a crazy coach and two of her athletes, but still a personal victory for the kind of team environment we like to create.
I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who might have been disgusted. They might think I’m an immature coach, or someone who doesn’t take my job seriously enough. They might even think that I disrespected the sport by allowing my girls to run (and risk disqualification) with mustaches. I disagree.
We put a lot of pressure on our high school students in academics and in athletics. We expect them to be mature and responsible to prepare them for the “real world.” (Please show me all the mature and responsible adults who always get all work done on time, perfectly, and never complain. But I digress.) We have turned even their sports, their games, into high pressure situations where anything less than their absolute best at all times is unforgivable.
I’m not that kind of coach.
I love to run. I want my athletes to love it, too. Sometimes that means having fun trumps taking things seriously. I guarantee those girls will remember Mustache Equality Day long after they’ve forgotten most other things about high school athletics.
Knowing I did my small part to make those positive memories makes taking the rule-breaking risk worthwhile.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.