Contend Earnestly: Pants and Basketball? Modesty Taken to a Whole New Level

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pants and Basketball? Modesty Taken to a Whole New Level


I found this story on ESPN.com and had to share it. This is a story on a school that requires it's boys basketball teams to wear long pants in the name of modesty. I found it very interesting that when the reporter asked if there was a verse in Scripture that addresses wearing long pants, this was the principals response:

There is, but I'd have to look it up -- I don't have it handy, but it's definitely in Scripture. And I don't know if you know this, but our girls' basketball team dresses in skirts. [And the school's cheerleading squad wears long skirts.]

Seems like if you were the principal you would be prepared to answer a question like that. But, I am guessing that the real problem is that this prohibition is found in the Bible right next to the laws of riding a unicorn and how to evangelize a leprechaun.

You have to read this post, I just don't get it.

We all know basketball pants have gotten longer and longer in recent years. But you probably have never seen them as long as this.

The team in the long pants is Gate City Christian, a tiny Pentecostal high school in southwestern Virginia. No, the players didn't forget their game shorts, and they aren't wearing their warm-up pants -- the Warriors, as the team is called, always wear long pants, due to the school's religious tenets. (You can see video footage of the Gate City Christian uniforms at the top of this page.)

This isn't the first time religion has influenced athletic attire. Girls at Orthodox Jewish schools sometimes wear skirts, for example (there's even a Connecticut school whose girls' hoops team is called the Skirts; additional info and photos here), and Muslim women often compete in unconventional gear.

But those examples involve female athletes conforming to traditional notions of feminine modesty. It's much more uncommon to see male players following a faith-based dress code. In an effort to learn more, Uni Watch tracked down Gate City Christian's principal, Wayne Elliott, who was happy to talk about the team's unusual uniforms.

Uni Watch

Uni Watch: A basketball team wearing long pants is new to me. What's it all about?

Wayne Elliott: We're a small Christian school, about 52 kids, and it's just a school dress code that we have, based on our Biblical beliefs and standards. It goes back to dressing in modest apparel -- that's the dress code we set, and the kids abide by it here at the school and at all school functions.

UW: And that code would be "no short pants."

WE: Correct.

UW: Please forgive my ignorance on this point, but is there a specific verse of the Bible that addresses this?

WE: There is, but I'd have to look it up -- I don't have it handy, but it's definitely in Scripture. And I don't know if you know this, but our girls' basketball team dresses in skirts. [And the school's cheerleading squad wears long skirts.]

UW: From a layman's standpoint, it seems like maybe you'd want the girls to wear pants as well, so they wouldn't show any skin. But I'm guessing you don't want the girls wearing pants or dressing the same as the boys, right?

WE: Yeah, because the Bible says there should be a separate distinction between a man and a woman in terms of their apparel, so that's what it's all about.

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Gate City Christian

Allen Greene Photography

No, that isn't a scrimmage in warm-up pants. Those are the official game uniforms for Gate City Christian and Maryville Christian.

UW: I see your kids also wear T-shirts under their tanktop jerseys. Is that also about modesty?

WE: Yes, that's part of the same thing.

UW: How long have you been doing this?

WE: We started our boys' basketball program in 2002. We now have varsity, JV, girls' basketball, girls' volleyball -- it's really grown.

UW: Wow, that's pretty impressive for a school with only 52 kids! And have your boys always worn the long pants since the team's inception?

WE: Yes sir, they've always worn the long pants. We've had people say that it puts our team at a competitive disadvantage, but we don't see it that way. It's just a way of life for us, it's all we know, so we don't feel it hinders us. We've really got some really good, respectful kids, and they're willing to give up wearing shorts in order to follow the rules.

UW: Are there other schools that have similar dress codes?

WE: Yes. We play in the East Tennessee Christian School Conference, and all four schools in the conference wear the long pants. [The team also plays nonconference opponents -- some Christian, some not.]

UW: So that means you probably have a lot of pants versus pants games.

WE: Yes, that's right. But it's not a conference rule -- it's just that all schools in the conference happen to dress that way.

UW: Did your school start that trend?

WE: No sir, we didn't. I'm 44 years old, and this is something schools around here have been doing as long as I can remember. So it was already established by the time we started our athletics program in 2002.

UW: Do any of the kids ever complain or roll their eyes and ask why they can't wear shorts like the other team?

WE: No, they know our guidelines and are willing to abide by that.

UW: What about when you play an opposing team wearing conventional shorts -- do they ever give your kids the business or make fun of their outfits?

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Gate City Christian

Allen Greene Photography

Gate City Christian's long pants don't seem to have impeded this drive to the basket.

WE: Nope, they're really respectful. I can't recall anything like that. There are some schools in our conference that require visiting teams to wear modest apparel too, although we don't do that at our gym, because I feel it wouldn't be fair to be pushing our preferences on people.

UW: So in those instances, a team that normally wears shorts would have to wear long pants when visiting one of these other schools?

WE: Yes, that's right. They'll even have a sign on the door that says, "All visiting teams must wear this apparel," and of course the coaches are told beforehand. To be honest with you, we did that during our first year, and I did have complaints from some people who felt it was a disadvantage to their teams, because they weren't used to wearing the pants like our team was used to it. But that's not why we changed it -- we changed it because I didn't want to force our beliefs on others.

Fair enough. But what's it like for the kids who wear the long pants? As Elliott noted, most of them have always dressed this way when playing sports, but one of the few exceptions is Travis Mullins, a 17-year-old senior who transferred to Gate City Christian in fifth grade. Prior to that, he attended a local public school, where he wore shorts in gym class and intramural athletics. Was it hard to get used to wearing pants when he began attending Gate City Christian?

"A little bit, but it wasn't that big of an adjustment," Mullins said. "I don't think it makes much difference in terms of hindering us or anything like that."

OK, but when Mullins sees a team dressed in conventional basketball uniforms, is there some little part of him that wishes his team could wear shorts, just once?

"In some ways, yes, you do want that, because I guess it would be lighter and not as hot," he said. "But aside from that, it doesn't bother me."

And there you have it. So the next time you see something like this and think to yourself, "Boy, those are pretty long," just remember that everything's relative.

(Special thanks to Cory Wright for his research assistance and to Allen Greene for his photographs and behind-the-scenes help.)

Paul Lukas thinks it would be fair to say that when the ESPN cameras showed up in Gate City last week, the school was ready for its Uni Watch moment. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.

7 comments:

erik raymond said...

"I don't have it handy, but it's definitely in Scripture."

cringe.

Looking forward to seeing someone one up them with priestly tassles, robes, and pointy hats on the court.

Meanwhile the gospel screams out that believers have been delivered from the elementary things (Col. 2, Gal 4). This is gross.

Bob Hayton said...

Seth,

That brings back memories for me! I was one of those long-pants-ers.

Our school ran about 50-70 or so and we had a very low budget, so we bought uniforms but didn't order the shorts. The plan was to order them a few years later, or so we were told. So we played in warm-up pants.

But because of this we were able to play one or two other schools that would not play against any team that did not wear pants. We did have a cheer-leading squad and their skirts went down to the knee or below.

We were independent fundamental Baptists, not charismatics.

Looking back on it, we sure looked stupid. And they were uncomfortable.

The college I went to did not allow men to wear shorts except for in the gym, pretty much. Women had to wear skirts/dresses all the time (even in the dorms). And no, there is no verse in scripture about the shorts thing.

There was even a time I wouldn't wear shorts in the dorm because I just wasn't sure whether it was sinful or not to wear them.

Boy, God has brought me a long way! And opened my eyes to His grace along the way.

Thought I'd just share my perspective on this interesting story!

Bob

Seth McBee said...

Bob.
I love having you as a contact. I love hearing your old stories growing up IFB...I don't know whether to laugh at these people or just feel sorry for them...it is so odd.


erik.

What's up bro. Yeah...that response was shocking. It's not like the reporter surprised him...but you would also think you would have your "interpretations" handy for your legalism...I know that is how it is when I run into people who don't like my tattoos.

Anyways...

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Pete Williamson said...

what I want to know is why it's okay for them to wear short-sleeved shirts...don't they know their bibles?

Seth McBee said...

Yeah...I know there are a lot of people who struggle with lusting after another's elbows.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I would wonder is - do they address the issue of, um, how "form fitting" those long pants are for the guys? As a gal, I don't look "there", but "there" is often hard to avoid visually. Can be embarassing.

In *my* Christian college, the women were allowed to wear pants in the dorm, but we were encouraged to wear them loose enough that we could "pinch an inch". I don't think the guys had that restriction on their pants.

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