DENVER -- Just when you thought nursing moms were gaining ground, a volleyball coach is barred from entering the Colorado Convention Center with her nursing infant.
The decision was apparently made by the Colorado Crossroads Tournament director.
"I feel like the message they're sending to these girls is you can't be a mom and you... don't get to be a mom... and coach. I have to choose volleyball or my family," said an emotional Dixie Loveless, owner of the Mountain Peak Volleyball Club in Logan, Utah, and head coach of the 14 National team.
Tournament director Kay Rogness warned Loveless about the rule Saturday afternoon.
"The issue is she's under 16," Rogness said. "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.
But the Denver City Attorney's office, in an email to Denver7, said: “After our review, we have no reason to believe there has been a violation of any city ordinance or law. 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," said Rachel Swanton. "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 she told tournament officials, "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."
While Loveless stood or sat outside the convention center nursing her infant all evening long, her team went about its winning ways.
"It was really hard to do it without a coach — our head coach — but we pushed through and fought for her," said Addi Sessions.
"Just to play a game without her was definitely different," said 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 — babies are not allowed.
"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."
Coach 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.'"
Late Saturday, USA Volleyball posted the following statement on its website: "It has been brought to USA Volleyball’s attention that a club coach participating in the Colorado Crossroads tournament in Denver says she was prohibited from bringing her breastfeeding baby into the tournament. Colorado Crossroads is one qualifier event for the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship. Colorado Crossroads is not operated or controlled by USA Volleyball and its jurisdiction over the event is limited. USA Volleyball has expressed its disagreement with this decision to the tournament director and is encouraging the tournament to reverse the regulation."
Loveless' 14 National Team won all three matches Saturday night under Assistant Coach Denae Pruden, and will play again at 8 a.m. Sunday.