Manaiza Kelley, in a skort, finishes first in the 100-meter dash. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

The Washington Post reports that since the girls' track team at Washington, D.C.'s Dunbar High School started competing in skorts — black compression shorts under a miniskirt, designed to eliminate embarrassing moments caused by skimpier uniforms — the runners have spent more time focusing on their events and less time feeling self-conscious because of what they're wearing.

Marvin Parker, who coaches the team at the country's first black high school, says his selection of the skorts over other options (like biking shorts with looser shorts on top) was inspired by tennis great Alethea Gibson, the first black woman to compete on the world tour:

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Dunbar Coach Marvin Parker came up with the idea for the skorts after a meet last winter. While sitting near the starting line for the 55-meter dash at Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, he watched a girl false start and then walk away in tears. A few boys had been standing behind her while waiting for their race and they had been pointing and making crude remarks.

"The young lady got down in the blocks, the starter said 'set' and she intentionally stepped off. It wasn't even close," said Parker, who has led the Crimson Tide to a combined 28 cross-country and track titles in his half-dozen years as coach at the Northwest school.

"I started paying attention for the rest of the meet and a lot of the girls were uncomfortable with bending over. I decided that we've got to do something different for girls."

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Meets can last eight hours or more and most runners only see a few minutes of time on the track. A girl false starting on purpose after waiting all day, Parker says, illustrates how exposed uniforms can leave high school-aged girls who often are already feeling insecure about the bodies they are still growing into.

"I feel self-conscious a lot," junior Imani Reeves says. "The skort uniform is great because it actually covers everything up."

Most track uniforms for girls — which can range from loose-fitting shorts to briefs (or spankies) to spandex of various length — leave little to the imagination. Girls are often tugging at clingy tops and bottoms. Parker could have had his athletes wear a pair of biking spandex with loose shorts over top, but he wanted something different.

"When our girls are racing, they are shaking and pounding that body and everything's on blast," says Dunbar team administrator Samantha Hayes, herself a former coach and athlete. "We're coming out there with a different body. It's like the Serena and Venus Williams of track out there."

Confidence, like in every sport, is an important quality for success on the track. [Destiny] Phillips says it's spiked for her and her teammates since they started wearing their new uniforms. Not only have they gotten a boost in performance, she says, but also in how they feel about themselves.

"You look good, you run good," Phillips, a co-captain, said. "It makes you feel different when you're out on the track, like no one can come get you."

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The fact that high school girls (there's no word on male runners facing similar issues) were made to feel self-conscious about the attention their bodies attracted when they wore standard athletic attire reflects sexism that transcends track and field, and that no uniform design could possibly address. We hope Parker was as proactive about addressing the "crude remarks" from boys as he was about covering up his female runners.  

But putting aside the troubling background of the story, Dunbar's ability to take it on in a way that boosts the runners' confidence, performance and pride (and throws in a black-history nod, no less) should be chalked up as a victory for the team.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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