The Missouri Western State University dance team, the Mystics, practice Monday afternoon. Eugenia Wallace, second from the left, and Jay Alford, second from the right, decided to take a knee during the national anthem at the Griffons last home football game.

Two black members of Missouri Western State University’s dance team were not allowed to participate in Saturday night’s football game after they knelt during “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Jay Alford and Eugenia Wallace, both students at Missouri Western, decided to show their support for a movement started by San Fransisco 49ers’ backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick: taking a knee instead of standing during the national anthem.

“We both felt the need to exercise our right to protest,” Alford said. “In lieu (sic) of everything going on with the shootings and police brutality, and a lot of injustice going on, taking a knee would just be a way to raise awareness of the situation.”

“I will always be black,” Wallace said. “Whatever we can do to bring awareness and justice anywhere for our culture and our society as a whole, I’m going to do.”

The two members of the Mystics dance team said they informed their fellow dancers of the planned protest before the game, however, their coach was not aware it was taking place until after Alford and Wallace knelt.

“At first she was pretty upset about it,” Alford said. “She said there is a time and place for everything, and let us know that (Saturday night’s game) really wasn’t the time or place.”

After the protest, the students were told by the coach that they could not perform with the rest of the team that evening. Alford and Wallace weren’t sure who made the decision, but indicated it could have been made by someone higher up than the coach because they were told they didn’t want to have funding jeopardized by people who disagreed with their decision to kneel.

“Our coach didn’t understand at first (our decision to protest),” said Wallace. “But after talking to her, she kind of grasped the idea of why we did it.”

The two students said the coach was “more supportive” after the game, but was upset that she wasn’t informed ahead of the protest and that the decision to take a knee wasn’t made by the entire 11-woman team, which is made up of six black students and five white.

The university’s administration was unaware of the incident until being contacted by the St. Joseph News-Press on Monday afternoon. It released the following statement: “Missouri Western is in the process of looking into the situation. As a university, we are committed to the open exchange of ideas, and protecting our students’ rights of free expression guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”

Alford and Wallace are still on the dance team and were at the Mystics’ practice Monday evening, where they were visited by President Dr. Bob Vartabedian, who apologized to the women on behalf of the university.

“It was really reassuring,” Alford said. “I was really grateful to have the president of the university come and speak to us directly, and confirm that we didn’t break any rules and to let us know we have the support of him and the university.”

Mark Zinn can be reached at mark.zinn@knpn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @KNPNZinn.

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