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California Basketball Tournament Lifts Ban Of "I Can't Breathe Shirts" After Students Protest

The Mendocino High School girls basketball team missed their chance to play in the tournament on Monday after organizers disinvited them. Organizers later reversed their decision to ban the shirts.

Posted on December 29, 2014, at 8:41 p.m. ET

The coach of the Mendocino High School's boys team has vowed to prevent any of his athletes from wearing the shirts during warm-up, according to the Press Democrat.

“They cannot play in the game if they don’t wear their uniform,” coach Jim Young said. “I’m not banning anything. I’m requiring them to wear a uniform.”

A basketball tournament at Fort Bragg High School in California on Monday allowed spectators and players to wear "I Can't Breathe" shirts after initially banning them.

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Players were initially only allowed to wear the shirts during warm-ups, the Fort Bragg Advocate-News reported.

"The district may revisit this issue if there is a bona fide disruption, linked to the activities mentioned above," read a statement from Patrick C. Wilson, Senior Associate General Counsel for School and College Legal Services of California.

The statement did not specify why tournament organizers had a change of heart. It came, however, after a letter by the ACLU said the students' actions were protected by the First Amendment, the California Constitution and the California Education Code.

Though the ban was reversed, it came after the Mendocino High School girls basketball team missed their chance to play in the tournament. The ACLU has asked they be reinstated after being denied their constitutional right to free speech.

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Co-captain Kiera Poehlmann told BuzzFeed News the team didn't expect reinstatement to be a possibility at this point, but they were happy their free speech rights were upheld.

"We're proud of what we've done. We love basketball, and we miss it," she said. "[But] we know that there are bigger things."

The girls team was originally disinvited from the tournament hosted by Fort Bragg High School after their players wore the shirts featuring the last words of Eric Garner earlier this month.

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Most of the Mendocino boys basketball team had agreed to leave their shirts home. Too many girls refused to budge, however, and their team's slot in the tournament was taken by another school.

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On Monday, several students demonstrated outside the high school in protest of the ban. "It was awesome to see our supporters," said Jin Jackson, co-captain of the team. "It went peacefully just like we planned."

#letthemplay blocked basketball girls leading rally in Mendocino County. @chrislhayes #inners

Jasper N Henderson@jaspernighthawkFollow

#letthemplay blocked basketball girls leading rally in Mendocino County. @chrislhayes #inners

10:33 AM - 29 Dec 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

In response to the controversy, security officers were placed on hand at the rural high school basketball tournament. Jackson said she hadn't seen security at previous tournaments, and the protesters had little interaction with them.

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After demonstrating outside the high school, protesters moved inside the gym.

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The girls team members, wearing their "I Can't Breathe" shirts, then cheered on the Mendocino boys team.

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