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The only Muslim player on the freshman girl’s basketball team at Palm Springs (Calif.) High School nearly quit a few weeks into the season.
Camrin Hampton wasn’t sure she could tolerate competing while wearing a traditional head covering any longer.
Minutes before her team’s season opener on Dec. 5, referees pulled Hampton aside with concerns about her hijab. They informed her she couldn’t use a safety pin to keep it in place during the game because they feared it posed an injury risk.
“They were on the phone with their supervisors trying to figure out what to do and they decided I couldn’t play with the safety pin in,” Hampton said. “I have no idea what they thought I was going to do with it. Obviously it was just to keep the hijab together.”
Hampton had already dreaded wearing a hijab during games because the ones she owned often trapped sweat, weighed down her head and became ill-suited for athletic competition. Not being allowed to pin her hijab in place only made it more of a nuisance since it would inevitably slip or come loose anytime she dove after a loose ball or even just sprinted back on defense.
Unwilling to remove her hijab for religious reasons yet unable to play effectively with it unpinned, Hampton sat out nearly all of her team’s first game. She subsequently learned to tightly tuck the hijab into the back of her jersey, but it would still only stay in place for a few possessions at a time.
“I would always have to sub myself out to fix it on the sideline,” Hampton said. “It was hard. I actually thought about quitting a few times. I wondered, ‘Why should it be so difficult to do something I enjoy?'”
Among those in the stands the day Hampton’s team opened its season was Bryan Stephens, the coach of Palm Springs High School’s boys JV basketball team. Not only did Stephens witness Hampton’s interaction with the referees before the game, the memory of seeing her smile fade and shoulders slump gnawed at him for weeks afterward.
“You could just read her body language that she was hurting,” Stephens said. “It was a hindrance, and it shouldn’t have been.”
When Stephens was browsing Nike’s website for shoes big enough to fit his size 17 feet last month, a message from a customer service agent popped up offering to provide assistance. It was then that Stephens remembered reading Nike was working with American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad to design a lightweight, breathable hijab intended for female Muslim athletes.
Stephens asked the customer service agent about the new item and learned it was not yet available for purchase. They chatted a little more about Hampton’s story, and the customer service agent told Stephens he would see what he could do to help.
To Stephens’ surprise, a box from Nike arrived at his house last week. It contained a pair of Nike hijabs and a handwritten note to Hampton from the customer service agent with whom Stephens had spoken.
When Stephens pulled Hampton aside between classes last Wednesday morning and showed her what the Nike representative had sent, the freshman was flabbergasted. She couldn’t believe that a complete stranger and a man who wasn’t even her coach would do that for her.
“For someone to go out of their way and do something that nice, my jaw dropped,” Hampton said. “I was so surprised. I was speechless.”
The following day, Hampton wore her new hijab in a game for the first time. The difference was unmistakable, from the airiness of the fabric, to the fact that it stayed in place on her head, to her ability to hear better while wearing it.
“You could see it on her face that she was so excited to have the athletic version,” said Rachel Schoenbeck, coach of the Palm Springs girls freshman team. “She has been a trooper with her normal hijab in practices and games, but sometimes it would come loose and it would be flapping in her face. This really is a benefit to her and it makes her more confident in a game.”
That the new hijabs make Hampton comfortable enough to keep playing basketball is crucial for a girl hunting for her niche at a new school. Hampton’s family moved across the country from Georgia to Southern California’s Sonoran Desert in October, a massive culture shock for anyone let alone a teenager just starting ninth grade.
Hampton had never played basketball competitively before coming to Palm Springs, but her enthusiasm for the sport grows by the day. Her teammates have quickly become a second family to her and she no longer feels like the new kid around them.
“For me to be the only Muslim at my school that covers and for them to accept me right off the bat, that was surprising,” Hampton said. “In the past I’ve had a bunch of people come at me for it and see it as a problem.
“When I need to find an escape from everything else, basketball really helps with that. I’m with my friends. I’m doing something I enjoy. I don’t have to think about anything else.”
Now Hampton no longer has to think about her hijab as much either, a huge burden lifted off her shoulders.
She has thanked Stephens profusely for his kindly gesture. The two of them are still trying to track down Brady, the otherwise anonymous Nike customer service agent whose good deed restored the confidence of a young girl trying to fit in at a new school.
“For the last three days, I’ve been going on Nike’s ‘Ask an Expert’ page looking for him,” Stephens said. “I’ll be like, ‘Man, I need Brady. When does Brady work?’ They’re like, ‘Sorry sir, we can’t give you that information.’ I wish I could make them understand that I’m not trying to be a stalker. I’m just trying to thank him.’
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