Aug. 28 (UPI) -- The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has added religious observance to its list of reasons that student athletes can withdraw from competition without being penalized.
The change is a win for sister-and-brother tennis players Joelle and Joseph Chung, who are devout Seventh-day Adventists. The siblings and their parents sued the WIAA after the organization declined to provide accommodations that would allow the teens to play in state championships while still being able to observe their Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Under a WIAA rule, players have to certify they will be able to participate in each level of a tournament to qualify for championships. Previously, exceptions were made only for secular reasons, including injuries, illness and "unforeseen events."
On Tuesday, WIAA's executive board voted to include religious observance as an exception. The change covers all sports.
Joelle, 17, who was undefeated in the 2018-19 season, could not participate in any postseason games because the last day of the tennis championship fell on a Saturday this year. Her brother, 15, a sophomore, faced the possibility of being in the same situation this season as his sister, who graduated this spring.
The Chungs filed suit in federal court after WIAA refused a request to move the 2019 state championship to a weekday or to allow Joelle to participate in the championship and use an alternate if she advanced to the final game.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that represents the Chungs, called the rule change "a common-sense win for religious minorities" but said it is only a partial victory.
The last day of the 2020 tennis championship is on a Saturday and the WIAA says it cannot adjust the schedule even if one of remaining contenders has a Sabbath conflict, according to Becket. Attorney Joe Davis said Wednesday that the suit will continue over that issue.