Debutantes participating in the Dogwood Ball in Knoxville, Tennessee, must be sophomores in college, unmarried -- and white? That's what the organizer claimed this week in a local newspaper, stirring accusations of racism, according to local media reports.

Anne Trent, president of the East Tennessee Presentation Society, which sponsors the ball, later denied that she made the comment. "I wouldn't want people to think I felt that way," said Trent. "I did not say that because that is not in our bylaws. There is nothing in our bylaws to say that."

Women receive an invitation to participate in the ball. "They are chosen for just being outstanding girls in their school, their church, athletics," Trent said.  

The Knoxville News Sentinel, which published the interview with Trent, has not addressed the controversy. The article read: "Trent says she does not see a problem with the event being segregated.” The newspaper did print a letter from a reader slamming the ball for its apparent racism.

"I really thought we in Knoxville were making progress on this racism thing. But Sunday was a wake-up call about how far we still have to go. I have to admit I am disappointed and a little depressed," wrote public relations executive Cynthia Moxley. "This debutante thing is embarrassing. Not only is it wrong and shortchanges the debs themselves by not giving them the opportunity to get to know a diverse group of women, but it looks awful to anyone from outside our community who may be considering moving here or even bringing a business here."

The East Tennessee Presentation Society presented 44 debutantes at its 53rd annual Dogwood Ball on March 28 at the Knoxville Marriott Hotel. The women all appeared to be white, according to pictures of the participants published by local media.