High school football: Racist chat led to canceling of season

The stadium lights shone on the brand new turf and the varsity footballers braced themselves for the struggles and triumphs of the upcoming game.

Then, just moments before the game between Amador High, a mostly white school in the southeastern Sacramento foothills, and Rosemont High, a mostly black and Hispanic school on the city’s industrial eastern edge, it was abruptly called off by Amador officials . Everyone would have to go. And to ensure their safe departure, the police department in the idyllic tourist town of Sutter Creek had called in reinforcements from the Amador County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies.

As parents and children went home shaken, rumors spread through both communities that an ugly act of racism had prompted the extraordinary action – something so serious that school officials in this conservative community were forced to respond vigorously.

That abandoned game on Sept. 16 marked the sudden end of Amador High School’s football season — a shock in a community where high school football games are the social event of the week. In the days that followed, District Superintendent Torie Gibson announced she had furloughed three staff members and alerted law enforcement to some allegations from a “disturbing” chat thread involving the majority of the football team. She noted that officials are “very limited in what can be shared with the public.”

Many in the community said the chat was titled “Kill the Blacks”.

Torie Gibson, Amador County Unified School District Superintendent.

Torie Gibson, Amador County Unified School District Superintendent.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

The incident comes amid a national conversation about racism in sports, and football in particular, ranging from renaming NFL teams to discrimination against black coaches. But Northern California has had more than its fair share of tear-jerking episodes lately.

Last week, another high school’s football team near Sacramento, River Valley in Yuba City, lost his season after a video showed several players staging a re-enactment of a “slave auction”. And last spring at another high school in Sacramento, Oak Ridge, supposedly a football player mocked a black soccer player with “monkey noises” during a game.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees high school sports, said in a statement that it supports Amador and River Valley’s decisions to end their seasons. “Discrimination in any form or actions that are disrespectful or degrading are unacceptable,” the organization said.

In Rosemont, many parents said they were troubled by yet another reminder that their children face racial discrimination and even threats to their safety. Rosemont school officials did not respond to calls.

“It was scary, and now every game it’s kind of scary,” said Arquelle Colson, who is black and whose child is on the Rosemont JV team.

Sutter Creek is located in Amador County.

Sutter Creek is a tourist town in deeply conservative Amador County that has had the highest number of petition signatures per capita to remove Governor Gavin Newsom.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

In Sutter Creek, the cancellation of football has sparked passionate conversations about race and racism in a community that is 90% white and in a district so far right that it has signed more petitions per capita to recall Gavin Newsom than any other place in the state.

On Facebook pages dedicated to the community’s schools, people have shared accusations of racism, questioned each other’s educational philosophies, and railed against school administrators.

Connie Blackman, whose grandchildren attend Amador County schools and who supported the decision to cancel the season, said she finds it remarkable that many people are more upset that children aren’t allowed to play than what they might have done .

But when Blackman, who is white, floated the idea while seated at an alfresco table at one of the many restaurants along Sutter Creek’s Main Street, her friend Dave Lefebvre, who is also white, objected. Perhaps the reprehensible title of the group chat was a misunderstanding, he said. Maybe it was referring to the fact that Rosemont’s jerseys are black, not the players’ race?

Blackman didn’t have it. “How many black teams does Amador play, Dave?”

Lefebevre turned to her, eyes wide. “Do you think anyone here really meant they wanted to kill those kids?”

Blackman shook his head sadly. “Dave,” she said. “Yes.”

Blackman, who moved to Amador County from Southern California four decades ago, later added that the city’s football debate highlighted how the tenor of political discourse had changed in the Trump era.

“I love this community and I don’t regret living here for a minute, but we’ve always been able to have very lively, heated discussions without it getting angry and ugly, and the fact that for the most part you don’t do that anymore.” , it makes me really sad.”

Lefebvre agreed with Connie – with whom he says he often has lively discussions over their opposing policies – that it was “a bummer”.

He said like many in the community he is still waiting to hear what actually happened. But he added: “This is not a racist community in my opinion. I could be totally naive,” he added, but he didn’t think the students meant what some people think they meant.

In the quaint streets surrounding the high school, it was almost impossible to find anyone lacking an opinion, and a heated one at that — though many conceded that verified facts were elusive.

“They punish the entire team without knowing who the culprits are,” said Mike Mulvehill, who lives down the street from the high school and whose grandchildren attend county schools. And they “punish the whole town and every other student,” he added, because everyone in town loves soccer and attends the high school games.

“It can’t possibly be any varsity player” who did something wrong, he said. “What kind of lesson are you teaching by punishing people who are not guilty?”

“Perhaps for once the officers were teaching the right lesson,” countered Vanessa and Desmond Feher Castagna, who are white and recently moved to the area from the big city of Sacramento with their two children, who are high school students.

If some members of the team had behaved horribly, this is the right thing to do, they said. Still, they said, the incident — and the anger over it — brought to the fore something they generally didn’t want to elaborate on: the vast political differences they believed existed between them and their neighbors, something dear to their hearts had grown.

“We don’t talk politics up here,” Vanessa said. “The community exists to support each other. Our neighbors, to whom we would entrust our lives, have the most contrasting views politically.”

Gibson, the superintendent, said many in the community were involved in rampant speculation, but for legal reasons she couldn’t give more details. Still, she said the incident – and the excitement it ignited – underscored the “desperate” need for many in the community to undergo training in implied racial bias.

Among the Rosemont parents, the Amador incident is still raw weeks after the canceled game.

A mother of a Black Rosemont player, who said she did not want to give her name to avoid her son being scrutinized, said her child received screenshots from someone on the Amador team.

“As a parent, it scares me,” she said, adding that she now wants to stand on the sidelines of every game “to keep an eye on my kid.”

Another woman, who is black and whose much younger brother is a star player on the Rosemont team, said she was among family members who drove to Amador for the game, only to see police officers converge on the stadium just before the game was cancelled.

Rosemont parents weren’t refunded for their tickets, she said, but were offered free pizza from the snack bar, which the woman said she declined.

“They just threatened us,” she said, shaking her head in surprise. “Do you think we’re going to eat with you?”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-07/racist-chat-thread-high-school-football-season-canceled High school football: Racist chat led to canceling of season

Emma Bowman

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