By NIKKI YOUNK
IRON RIVER - West Iron County High School student and track athlete Mike Barker wanted to show his support for his mother's fight against breast cancer by dyeing his mohawk-style hair bright pink.
West Iron County High School student Mike Barker is shown with his mother, Wendy Pawlicki.
However, the school has a dress code prohibiting athletes from sporting excessive hairstyles.
Following an incident this week in which Barker said he was told he could not participate in a track meet, many in the local community have rallied around his cause.
Barker had been planning on dyeing his hair for his mother for some time now. His mother, Wendy Pawlicki, has survived three bouts of breast cancer.
"My mom was wondering if I could do my mohawk with pink in it," Barker explained. "I just didn't have the time during football or basketball, so I promised her I would do it for track."
His decision came with consequences.
Barker said that he was called in to multiple meetings with his principal and coaches.
"They told me to cut my hair before the track meet," he said. "That it was excessive."
Barker chose to keep wearing his pink mohawk for the track team's first meet in Eagle River, Wis. on Thursday. He was waiting on a school bus bound for the meet when he said he was approached by his coach.
According to Barker, his coach told him that he could not participate in the meet with his hair as it was. Barker then left the bus, joined by some of his fellow teammates.
"My friends said 'we'll leave too'," he said. "They didn't go to the meet either."
Barker has not only found encouragement from his friends. As of Friday night, a Facebook group dedicated to Barker's cause had attracted approximately 1,500 members from across the country.
The support has touched Barker.
"I want to thank all those people who are supporting me and sharing the love," he said.
West Iron Superintendent Chris Thomson released an official statement regarding the situation on Friday.
"The West Iron County Public Schools supports the needs of the students to express themselves, as long as their expression does not interfere with the educational process," he said. "We also strive to balance individualism of athletes with the concept of team that fit within our athletic code."
Thomson emphasized that the school wants to work with Barker and his family to find a resolution.
"The student was not dismissed from the team and we welcome his participation in the future," he added.
Barker said that he "pretty much quit" the track team, at least for this year. He is not yet sure what the future holds.
"I'm just taking it one step at a time right now," he said.
One objective that Barker does currently have is to circulate a petition regarding the dress code and eventually present it to the West Iron County School Board.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.