Racist remarks aimed at Charles City High School ballplayer prompt forceful response
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]
Racist remarks yelled at an African American Charles City ballplayer at a recent away game have drawn a strong response from the school district’s administration and prompted a call for the issue to be addressed by the state high school boys and girls athletic associations.
The Charles City School District sent a message to district families and staff Wednesday morning, saying the player “endured several bigoted comments yelled from the crowd. This included, ‘Get back to the fields!’ and ‘You’re only here because of George Floyd,’” the district said in its message.
“Sadly, this has been a pattern of behavior that our students of color have had to endure in many different places and contexts and is part of their daily experience,” the district’s message said.
“This is unacceptable,” it went on. “As a place where we do what is best for all kids, we feel compelled to speak out and bring light to the situations that routinely happen to our kids. Our students must know we have their backs regardless of the circumstances and that we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with them to end oppression and to create the world that we know is possible.
“Our state and nation needs to know that our thoughts, words, and actions matter. We must do better. We must be better,” said the statement, which was signed by the district’s principals, directors and superintendent.
Superintendent Mike Fisher talked with the Press Wednesday afternoon.
“We wanted to show our students that we have their backs, that we won’t sweep stuff under the rug. If they feel like that’s happened we’ve got to do better. We were just going to shine a light on it,” he said.
Fisher said he and other Charles City School District administrators had been in contact with administrators at the other school, “having conversations about what needs to be fixed, what we need to do differently, and to make them aware of that.”
“To their credit, they’re working on the situation as well,” he said. “We’ve made very clear, our statement was not about them. It was not about calling out the other school. It’s not about putting them in a bad light. It’s about shining a light on the fact that our kids of color deal with this type of behaviour every day of their lives. It’s all over, it’s pervasive, and we know that.”
Both Fisher and district Communications Director Justin DeVore declined to identify the other school district involved.
DeVore said it was a “situation that happened last week” at an away baseball game.
The only away games played last week by the Comets baseball team were at Waverly. People who said they have knowledge of the incident confirmed to the Press that it happened at Waverly.
Fisher said, “We have been told they are continuing their investigation. We have not been given any updates on any action they are taking at this time. I know our … activities director is in contact with their activities director, our high school principal is in contact with their high school principal, and I have been in contact with their superintendent, all within the last 24 hours.”
Fisher said he had sent a message Tuesday to the executive directors of the Iowa High School Athletic Association which sets guidelines for boys sports and to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, which does the same for girls sports, requesting a meeting with them very soon to start a conversation among superintendents of schools that have diverse populations.
“Our minority populations in our school districts deserve better than walking into an athletic event and having racist things said to them and bigoted things said to them,” Fisher said. “We as a state need to do better.”
He said that as of Wednesday afternoon he had not heard back from either executive director, but he also realized a holiday weekend was coming up.
“We just want to reiterate it’s not about the other school,” Fisher said. “It’s about racism, it’s about bigotry. It doesn’t matter where it happens. Our kids of color, our kids from diverse backgrounds, this is their lived experience.
“We see it as two separate situations. There’s the sportsmanship situation that we’re addressing with the school, that’s a private matter. And then we’re shining a light. This was a trigger that we realize and we’re owning this as a school district,” he said.
Fisher said the Charles City district is “heavily invested” in doing things like improving test scores, and working on attendance and discipline rates.
“We’ve got our own things we’ve got to work on in terms of better serving our underserved kids,” he said.
“We don’t do ourselves any justice by not speaking up and speaking out about this, and in the light of George Floyd and the protests, and credit to Dr. Stacey Cole of Storm Lake, … just gave us the courage, the conviction that, you know, we can’t be silent anymore. We must speak out on behalf of our kids. Our kids of color must know we’ve got their backs,” he said.
The opening game of the season for the Storm Lake softball team was marred by some motorists driving by the ballfield and yelling derogatory terms at some of the Latino ballplayers and their families. Superintendent Cole spoke out about the incident, saying it’s important “to point out that bigotry is still with us” and “speaking up when we witness injustice taking place.”
DeVore said several parents and staff have expressed pride in the stance the Charles City School District has taken.
“I haven’t seen a single negative comment yet. Our parents are really rallying around our kids, and that is a good thing for the community,” he said.
Fisher said the district is talking about strategies if a similar incident should happen again.
“If we have a place where our kids don’t feel safe we may not visit those schools anymore,” he said. “And we’re making that very clear. We will not put our kids in harm’s way. We’ll give a fair chance to all schools and if we have this issue, absolutely let’s get it fixed. But on the other hand, too, if we can’t get it fixed that might mean it’s not a good partnership.”
This is the text of the message the Charles City School District sent to parents, students and staff Wednesday morning:
Dear Charles City Family,
Our mission and why we exist is simple; regardless of who you are or what your story is, you can learn and be loved here. This speaks to our passion and love of ensuring ALL students are welcome, can learn, and feel unconditional love. It especially speaks to our passion and commitment to justice, fighting oppression, and creating compassionate competent problem solvers that are willing to lean into the challenge of creating a better world. A better world without bigotry.
During a recent away athletic contest one of our African-American players endured several bigoted comments yelled from the crowd. This included, “Get back to the fields!” and “You’re only here because of George Floyd.” Sadly, this has been a pattern of behavior that our students of color have had to endure in many different places and contexts and is part of their daily experience.
This is unacceptable. As a place where we do what is best for all kids, We feel compelled to speak out and bring light to the situations that routinely happen to our kids. Our students must know we have their backs regardless of the circumstances and that we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with them to end oppression and to create the world that we know is possible. Our state and nation needs to know that our thoughts, words, and actions matter. We must do better. We must be better.
Our Charles City school and community is blessed to have the diversity of people we have. It is what makes Charles City such a wonderful and beautiful place. We will never let people tear us down with their words and actions. We are strong because of the adversity we endure and how we become better from it. Our kids in Charles City are the future that will shape and transform this world for the better.
Charles City is a place where regardless of who you are or what your story is, you can learn and be loved here. This is why we exist and our promise to our kids and community.
All the best,
Charles City Community Schools Senior Leadership Team
Mike Fisher, Superintendent