God gesture disqualifies team from State Championships; Religious violation? (VIDEO)

A high school track team in Texas was disqualified from competing in the state championships on Friday after winning a 4 x 100m relay because the team's anchor runner Derrick Hayes made a "God gesture" to thank God for their victory.

Hayes reportedly pointed to the sky to say thank you in celebration as his team won the relay for Columbus High School. However, the University Interscholastic League of Texas disqualified the team from taking part in the state championships for the so-called 'God gesture', charging it as an "unsporting conduct" and "excessive celebration."

Hayes' father K.C told Fox Houston: "It's a sad deal. I think it's a travesty. Those kids work hard." He insists that his son was simply pointing to God. "As a team they reached their goal and in an instant it was just gone, over something we think is a non-issue. I guess someone else thinks it is an issue. He just said dad I was pointing at the heavens."

The team's disqualification has stirred debate, with some calling it a violation of religious freedom. However, the school insists that the gesture was banned because it was celebratory and not because it is religious.

The UIL said in a statement Saturday: "At the Region IV Conference 3A Track & Field regional meet held on Saturday, April 27 at Texas A&M Kingsville, a relay team from Columbus High School was disqualified by local meet officials for an unsporting act at the conclusion of the boys 4 x100 meter relay.

"The meet official indicated the athlete crossed the finish line and gestured upward with his arm and finger and behaved disrespectfully toward meet officials, in their opinion. In the judgment of the official, this was a violation of NFHS track & field rule 4-6-1. The regional meet referee concurred with this decision and the student was subsequently disqualified. There is no indication that the decision was made because of any religious expression. This was a judgment call, as are many decisions of meet officials in all activities."

K.C. Hayes said his son only thanked the source of his strength. "It's not a malicious act. It's not a taunting act. It's a 'we did it' and he (my son) knows where the source comes from."