High School Sports

Referee in dispute over Anchorage swimmer’s suit says she was unfairly criticized

A swimming official at the center of a controversy involving a Dimond High School swimmer disqualified for the fit of her swimsuit said Friday that neither the Anchorage School District nor the Alaska School Activities Association has asked for her side of the story.

In a written statement sent to members of Anchorage news media on Friday morning, Jill Blackstone of Chugiak said that in the last six days “neither ASAA nor ASD has asked for an explanation from me about the events that led to the disqualification or asked me if I had a defense to the accusations that have been leveled at me.”

Blackstone said later by email that she provided statements to both groups but has not heard back from the school district and didn’t hear back from ASAA until Thursday night, when the organization emailed her to say it plans to take action to decertify her as an official.

Blackstone is a nationally certified official with more than a dozen years of experience as a USA Swimming official and nearly a decade’s worth of experience at the high school level. USA Swimming is the national governing body for swimming in the United States.

In her emailed statement, Blackstone said she was simply enforcing existing rules when she disqualified a female swimmer for showing too much of her buttocks at a swim meet last week. The disqualification came after the swimmer had won a race.

The incident was publicized first in a blog post by a West High coach and later in Alaska and national media outlets.

The disqualification was overturned this week by ASAA, which cited a National Federation of High Schools rule that requires an official to notify a coach of a uniform violation before the start of race, something ASAA determined did not happen. The school district said it will seek, with ASAA’s help, the decertification of Blackstone.


In an email Friday afternoon, Blackstone said she sent a detailed description of the events leading up to the disqualification to ASAA last Friday as soon as the meet ended.

She also said she called the district Tuesday “after the disqualification had been publicized” and provided a statement about the incident over the phone, “but there was no discussion or information provided on the part of ASD and I received no further contact.”

Alan Brown, director of communications for the Anchorage School District, said ASAA sent Blackstone’s Sept. 6 statement to the school district Monday. He said the statement issued Friday morning by the official “implies we didn’t want to hear from her,” he said.

“We did take her account into consideration,” Brown said.

Blackstone did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the statement she sent to ASAA. Both ASAA and the school district said they will not share it.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate to release statements or name specific people who conducted the investigation, as ASAA’s review is still ongoing,” Brown said by email. “We wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their process.”

ASAA executive director Billy Strickland, who is at meeting in the Lower 48 with other ASAA officials, said the organization will not longer comment on the controversy.

“ASAA no longer intends to comment on the September 6 incident,” he said via text. “It is our hope the attention surrounding swim and dive will refocus on the talents and dedication of the students involved.”

Here is Blackstone’s statement in its entirety:

“Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) and the Anchorage School District (ASD) adopted and asked swim officials to enforce the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) rules. As meet referee I observed an athlete who did not comply with these rules, which resulted in the required disqualification. Despite claims to the contrary by ASAA and ASD, I followed the specified protocol described in the governing NFHS rules to process the disqualification. The School District has unfairly labeled me as “heavy-handed” and “biased.” During the last six days, neither ASAA nor ASD has asked for an explanation from me about the events that led to the disqualification or asked me if I had a defense to the accusations that have been leveled at me.

“ASD and ASAA should review rules prior to asking officials to uphold them, and impartially hear all sides when disputes arise. Due process is important for all of us.”

(This story has been updated with information about Jill Blackstone’s experience as an official.)

Matt Tunseth

Matt Tunseth is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and former editor of the Alaska Star.

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.