DENVER — A Utah volleyball coach says she was barred from entering a tournament at the Colorado Convention Center with her nursing infant.
Dixie Loveless, the owner of the Mountain Peak Volleyball Club in Logan, Utah, and head coach of the club's U14 national team, said she was told not to enter the arena following a decision made by the director of the Colorado Crossroads Tournament.
"I feel like the message they're sending to these girls is you don't get to be a mom and coach," Loveless said. "I have to choose volleyball or my family."
Tournament director Kay Rogness warned Loveless about the rule on Saturday afternoon.
"The issue is she's under 16," Rogness said to Loveless of her child in a video taken by a bystander. "The issue is she is not a player. She is not a coach. Those are the only facts."
Colorado state law says a mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be. However, local attorneys say tournament officials did not violate any laws by preventing Loveless from entering the building.
“After our review, we have no reason to believe there has been a violation of any city ordinance or law," the Denver city attorney's office said in an email. "This is a private event. It is the event organizer and USA Volleyball who set the rules for entry and access to the court area.”
"If we had known this two months ago when we signed up for this tournament, we would have chosen a different tournament, because there's lots of qualifiers," Loveless said.
The decision infuriated team parents.
"I'm proud of my coach and my girls because they're standing up for human decency," Rachel Swanton said. "We came to Denver thinking this was a diverse cultural city that was full of acceptance and we're being told that a 4-month-old that relies upon their mother for sustenance cannot even sit in a lobby away from these girls, so that she can take care of her baby. This is not right."
State Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, said Colorado Crossroads made the wrong decision.
"It's just a total tone-deafness and it's enraging that in 2021, when we saw basketball players nursing their babies at halftime, that we're not going to let a mother nurse her baby," Tipper said.
Loveless said tournament officials did not offer any solutions when they barred her from entering the arena.
"We paid money to travel here to do this, so what else am I supposed to do? And they said, 'sorry,' but they wouldn't give a solution," Loveless said.
While Loveless stayed outside the convention center nursing her infant all evening long, her team went about its winning ways. The U14 National Team won all three matches Saturday night under assistant coach Denae Pruden.
"It was really hard to do it without a coach — our head coach — but we pushed through and fought for her," said Addi Sessions one of Loveless' players.
"Just to play a game without her was definitely different," said another player, Adeline Swanton. "It was a really weird experience. It was hard."
Loveless wasn't the only tournament participant barred entry with an infant.
Jess Sponenberg said that her sister, a co-owner and co-director of the Juggernaut Volleyball Club, has twins and was told to leave, as babies were not permitted inside.
"I totally understand they're trying to keep people safe here," Sponenberg said. "I get that, but she's got to earn a living. She's got to work and she knows the risk."
Loveless said she's trying to be a role model to every girl at the tournament.
"I want them to know you can do both," she said. "You don't have to (think), 'Oh, I had a kid and now I can't do anything. I have to just be a mom. I'm not allowed to go and do other things that other people, who are not nursing, are allowed to do.'"
In a statement posted to its website on Saturday, USA Volleyball clarified that it does not operate or control the Colorado Crossroads tournament.
"USA Volleyball has expressed its disagreement with this decision to the tournament director and is encouraging the tournament to reverse the regulation," the organization's statement read.
This story was originally published by Lance Hernandez on Scripps station KMGH in Denver.