Volleyball in an empty gym

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Multiple women were turned away from a volleyball tournament at the Colorado Convention Center over the weekend after officials said spectators younger than 16 years old weren’t allowed — including the infants the mothers were breastfeeding.

Dixie Loveless, coach and owner of Mountain Peak Volleyball in Utah, said she wasn’t allowed to enter the Crossroads Tournament with her team Saturday because of her 4-month-old daughter, McKinley.

“Right now I am being told I must choose between caring for my nursing baby and coaching my team,” Loveless said. “This is wrong and discriminatory towards women and moms.”

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Loveless said organizers told her that spectators younger than 16 years old weren’t permitted inside because of COVID-19 risks — even though many of the players in the USA Volleyball Junior National Qualifier Tournament were under 16 themselves.

Loveless said her baby won’t take a bottle and can’t go more than three hours without eating, let alone the entire tournament. She said this left her with no choice but to miss out on coaching her team.

“They clearly don’t see the example they’re setting for these female athletes,” Loveless said. “Choose: family or coaching. That’s what they’re doing. ... They are teaching the girls that they can’t coach and be a mom. They are putting limits on us as women.”

Loveless ended up standing outside the convention center until after 9:30 p.m., watching her team play on her phone.

Other mothers, including Tarah Olmstead and Kelsey Burger, said they were also turned away over the weekend because they brought their breastfeeding infants. And coach Nikita Eby said she and her 2-month-old were kicked out last week for the same reason.

The no-infants policy has inspired backlash throughout the community, including from a small group of people who rallied in front of the convention center Sunday morning in support of the mothers who were turned away.

“This is insane,” said Rachel Swanton, whose daughter, Adeline, plays on Loveless’ team. “What has this world come to that infants are being treated like this?”

State Rep. Kerry Tipper also challenged the policy on Twitter, saying she was “incredibly disappointed” by the tournament’s actions and questioned the legality of it.

“Obviously they can, have, and should make an exception under these circumstances,” Tipper said. “Colorado law requires moms be allowed to nurse.”

Under Colorado’s state law, a mother must be able to breastfeed in any place she had the right to be.

However, the Denver City Attorney’s Office said it does not believe the tournament violated a city ordinance or law because it is a private event, with rules for entry and access established by the organizer and USA Volleyball.

On Saturday night, USA Volleyball released a statement about the policy, pointing the blame to Colorado Crossroads.

“Colorado Crossroads is not operated or controlled by USA Volleyball and its jurisdiction over the event is limited,” the statement said.

“USA Volleyball has expressed its disagreement with this decision to the tournament director and is encouraging the tournament to reverse the regulation.”

Colorado Crossroads tournament director Kay Rogness has not responded to requests for comment.

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