In the spring of 1974 my high school still had a policy requiring every male student participating in sports to have a respectable haircut. No long hair, no ponytails, no exceptions. We also had to wear a coat and tie on game or meet days.
In March of 1974 a new student began attending our school. At the age of sixteen, Travis Ford (not his real name) stood 6’3” and weighed 220 pounds. He was built like a Greek god and many of his male classmates envied him. Many female classmates envied him as well because Travis had luxurious blond hair that flowed down to his shoulder blades.
Physical education classes were mandatory and it didn’t take the P.E. teachers (who also coached sports at the school) long to notice that Travis was a gifted athlete. Shortly after his arrival, the P.E. teachers encouraged Travis to stay after school, meet the track coach, and maybe run a few sprints. Just for fun.
Travis accepted the invitation and showed up for track practice on a gorgeous afternoon. And the one thing most of us wanted to see more than anything was to see Travis run the one hundred yard dash. So Travis dutifully positioned himself at the starting block, waited for the coach to blow the whistle, and then sprinted one hundred yards with his long hair flowing behind him. As Travis crossed the finish line, the coach clicked his stopwatch and announced the time. I don’t remember Travis’ exact time, but we all knew who the fastest kid at that school was that afternoon.
The track coach was a science teacher and was not a stupid man. He was also a coach on the football team. He knew immediately that Travis would be a successful sprinter, but he also knew Travis would make an exceptional tight end as well.
I don’t know whether this next part of the story took place that afternoon or maybe a day later, but at some point the track and football coaches called Travis into a conference room. I wasn’t present, but one of them probably said something like, “Travis, you are an exceptional athlete. We think you’d make a fine addition to our track team. And we believe we have a sport for you on the varsity football team as well.”
And Travis probably replied, “Thanks, Coach. I’m flattered.”
“There’s just one thing,” the coach said, “You’re going to have to cut your hair. It’s the school’s policy.”
At this point, Travis probably waited just a second or two, leaned back a little, maybe smiled, then stood up and said, “You know, sports aren’t that important to me. I like my hair the way it is.” And then he left.
This was not the reaction the coaches had expected. This next part is conjecture, but it’s good conjecture. Within a day or two, one of the coaches suggested to another coach that maybe it was time to reconsider the haircut policy. “It’s his hair,” the other coach replied, “why should we care how he wears it?” Shortly thereafter the track and football coaching staff met to discuss changing the haircut policy. A few of the “old school” coaches may have been resistant – until they heard how fast Travis had run the one hundred yard dash. They soon reached a consensus – the haircut policy had to go. The head track and football coaches made an appointment to see the principal.
The principal was a really cool guy who loved to wander the halls and chat with students. And he never missed a football game. He had a doctorate in education. The coaches arrived in his office for their scheduled meeting and explained that they wanted to abolish the haircut policy. The principal, being an open minded man, was not averse to the reconsidering the policy, but if he had any hesitancy, Travis’ time in the one hundred yard dash quickly cured that. The principal abolished the haircut policy.