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Reaction spreads to Charles City High School ballplayer taunted by racist remarks

By Bob Steenson, bsteenson@charlescitypress.com

A Charles City High School athlete who was the target of racial comments at a recent away ballgame says he hopes some good can come out of all the attention the incident is receiving.

But most of all, said Jeremiah Chapman, a 17-year-old center fielder for the Comets, he would like the people who yelled the comments to explain why they did it.

“I want the people who said it to own up to what they said,” Chapman told the Press. “People are apologizing. I don’t want everybody to apologize, because it’s not their fault. I just want to know the reason why it was said.”

Reaction spreads to Charles City High School ballplayer taunted by racist remarks
Keisha Cunnings, mother of Jeremiah Chapman, tweeted this message after the Charles City School District released a statement last Wednesday morning regarding racist remarks made against Chapman at a baseball game the previous weekend.

By now, the junior ballplayer has recounted what happened many times, to several news organizations including CNN, and to other people — including some pretty recognizable names.

As the Press reported last Thursday, the Comets were playing a doubleheader against Waverly-Shell Rock in Waverly on Friday, June 26.

“The first game everything was fine. That wasn’t our best game as a team — we lost 10-zero,” Chapman said.

“Second game started off pretty good. It was around the fourth or fifth inning and my teammate, Hunter (Sullivan), was getting yelled at by students, kids, in left field. They were like, “Hunter, you’re trash. You can’t catch a ball or anything.”

Chapman said he told Sullivan to ignore them and they laughed it off.

“And then the comments started yelling “4, 4″ (Chapman’s jersey number) and calling me Colin. I’m like, that’s not my name. I assumed they were calling me Colin Kaepernick,” he said, referring to the Black NFL quarterback who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before football games as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in the country.

“I knew they knew my name. And I was already mad,” he said.

“I caught a pop fly and then they said I ‘should go back to the fields,’” Chapman said.

The next inning a ball got hit to Sullivan and he missed, and the crowd started taunting him.

“I looked at Hunter and said, ‘don’t worry about it,’” Chapman said. “And then someone yelled at me, ‘You should have been George Floyd,’ and I wanted to have a reaction, but I just knew that wasn’t me. … I made it seem like I ignored it. And then we hurried up and got three outs.”

Chapman said it looked like Waverly-Shell-Rock players were making the remarks.

“Not the varsity players, because the varsity players were in the dugout, but it looked like the younger players, like the freshman or the JV, because they were wearing the team hats,” he said.

Going back to the dugout for their turn at bat, Chapman said he told his coach what happened and his coach said he would talk to the other team’s athletic director.

“I told my assistant coach, he’s like, ‘You know I’m always here for you,’ … and that really meant a lot.”

After their turn at bat, when Chapman was running back out onto the field, the umpire stopped him.

“He said, ‘Are you Jeremiah?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ He was like, ‘If you need me to pause the game or anything to kick those kids out, I will. Just yell my name or just yell and I’ll stop the game, with no doubt,” Chapman said.

“It really meant a lot because I heard it in his voice, he started getting emotional saying that,” Chapman said.

“After that nothing else was said. And then we ended up losing. We took a team van and we were on our way home and I was crying. My mom was in North Carolina at the time, so I called her. I was like, “Mom, I just want to quit sports. I don’t want to do it anymore.

“That was the second time I had ever experienced racial stuff said, and that was worse than the first time. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore, so I just wanted to quit,” he said.

The Charles City School District investigated the event, and last Wednesday issued a statement to district parents, students and staff, describing the incident.

“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.

“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.

Even though the school district did not identify Chapman or the other school district involved, both were easy to figure out, as Charles City had played away baseball games the previous week at only one place, in Waverly, and Chapman is the only Black athlete on the team.

Later last Wednesday, after the Charles City School District had issued its statement, Chapman’s mother, Keisha Cunnings, who is administrative support and spirit team head coach with the school district, posted a tweet.

The tweet, including a picture of Jeremiah batting, said, “This is my boy! He is kind, sweet and talented.. if you can’t see beyond his skin color then sucks for you! And just an FYI…he has never worked on a field…his name is Jeremiah not Colin…he doesn’t care who you support politically..and he doesn’t remind you of George Floyd!”

Chapman said he thought the school handled the situation correctly.

“They asked me at first, did I want them to release a statement? I was, like, yeah, cause I want others to know what happened. But the statement didn’t have my name or anything. My teammates knew. I didn’t tell my teammates at the game, but after we had another game the coach told them about it, and everybody was, like, ‘Oh, shoot.’

“My coaches care a lot, because every day they ask me if I’m OK – how am I doing? At practice they say is there anything they can do, and I’m fine. My teammates check on me every day. One of my teammates texted me a lot and said he has my back, no matter what. All my teammates have my back. A lot of people in the community are by my side, which I really like,” he said.

“At our game on Friday, we had people come down from Waterloo and Mason (City) and some other places, and they came down to support me and not just for me, for our team,” Chapman said.

Chapman said support has also come in from well beyond the area.

“Yesterday I talked to Deion Sanders,” he said, referring to the NFL football Hall-of-Famer who won two Super Bowls and also played nine seasons in Major League Baseball.

“He just told me it’s probably not going to be the last time this happens. I just have to get through it, and he knows I’m a fighter,” Chapman said.

“I was smiling on Facebook because I was so happy to see him, and he said just keep that smile. When they say stuff, just smile. Prove them wrong by playing,” he said Sanders told him.

He has also talked with or been contacted through his mom’s Twitter account by current or former Major League players including Sterling Sharp, Sean Dolittle, Anthony Alford, Shed Long Jr., Tim Anderson, Marquis “Bo” Porter, Kenny Lofton and Adam Jones.

Last Thursday, Waverly-Shell Rock issued a statement, saying, “Waverly-Shell Rock schools fully acknowledge that there was an incident at a recent baseball game that had one of our fans make extremely inappropriate, bigoted comments towards a Charles City player.

“This behavior is not acceptable. We make no excuses, because there are none. We do, however, wish to make a sincere apology to the Charles City school district and community and, in particular, the young man towards whom these comments were directed.

“We can’t undo what’s been done. But we are using this as a learning experience for the responsible party and, we hope, for many others in our schools and communities.”

The statement was signed “Waverly-Shell Rock Administration.”

On Friday, the Northeast Iowa Conference, the high school athletic conference that Charles City and Waverly-Shell Rock belong to, issued a statement. It said in part:

“We know racism exists in our conference, our schools, and our communities. We also know we are called to stand strongly for the dignity and rights of our students of color. …

“In that spirit we stand together today in stating Black Lives Matter in the Northeast Iowa Conference, and in each of our seven school districts. We will not tolerate acts of racism, bigotry, or hate from participants, employees, or spectators at our events. …

“This summer we are aware of acts of hate and racism directed at a Storm Lake Schools’ softball player, and here in our own conference against a Charles City Schools’ baseball player. We are disgusted knowing any Iowa student-athlete is the target of these attacks. We believe racism and hate are learned, and can be unlearned. We recognize our school systems play a role in maintaining systemic bias and oppression. We embrace the challenge to use our roles as leaders to become better.

“We also urge our anti-racist students, parents, employees, and community stakeholders to feel supported and emboldened to shine a light on racist, bigoted, and hateful acts. We want our conference and our schools to be places where each student is able to feel supported and empowered, and to experience pride and joy in learning, competing, and performing.

“Hate and racism are not welcome in the Northeast Iowa Conference. Our school boards and our administrative teams are committed to taking proactive steps to create the conditions that eliminate racism, bigotry, and hate.”


Waverly Shell-Rock statement, issued Thursday, July 2:

 Waverly-Shell Rock schools fully acknowledge that there was an incident at a recent baseball game that had one of our fans make extremely inappropriate, bigoted comments towards a Charles City player.

This behavior is not acceptable. We make no excuses, because there are none. We do, however, wish to make a sincere apology to the Charles City school district and community and, in particular, the young man towards whom these comments were directed.

We can’t undo what’s been done. But we are using this as a learning experience for the responsible party and, we hope, for many others in our schools and communities.

Waverly-Shell Rock Administration


Statement issued by Northeast Iowa Conference:

July 3, 2020

As administrators and board of education members of the member schools of the Northeast Iowa Conference, we know racism exists in our conference, our schools, and our communities. We also know we are called to stand strongly for the dignity and rights of our students of color. Civil rights advocate and athlete Jackie Robinson once said, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

In that spirit we stand together today in stating Black Lives Matter in the Northeast Iowa Conference, and in each of our seven school districts. We will not tolerate acts of racism, bigotry, or hate from participants, employees, or spectators at our events. Each member district has board policies aligned to Iowa Code guaranteeing students freedom from harassment or bullying based on the student’s actual or perceived trait or characteristic, including the student’s actual or perceived race, color, creed, sex, age, religion, marital or familial status, ethnic background, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental ability or disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attribute, political party preference, political belief, or socio-economic background. We recognize we are the seven individuals responsible for ensuring this freedom is guaranteed to each student in our member schools.

This summer we are aware of acts of hate and racism directed at a Storm Lake Schools’ softball player, and here in our own conference against a Charles City Schools’ baseball player. We are disgusted knowing any Iowa student-athlete is the target of these attacks. We believe racism and hate are learned, and can be unlearned. We recognize our school systems play a role in maintaining systemic bias and oppression. We embrace the challenge to use our roles as leaders to become better.

We also urge our anti-racist students, parents, employees, and community stakeholders to feel supported and emboldened to shine a light on racist, bigoted, and hateful acts. We want our conference and our schools to be places where each student is able to feel supported and empowered, and to experience pride and joy in learning, competing, and performing. Hate and racism are not welcome in the Northeast Iowa Conference. Our school boards and our administrative teams are committed to taking proactive steps to create the conditions that eliminate racism, bigotry, and hate.

Signed by:

Jay Mathis, Allamakee Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Mike Fisher, Charles City Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Mark Lane, Decorah Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Ted Ihns, Howard-Winneshiek Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Jay Jurrens, New Hampton Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Josh Ehn, Oelwein Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Ed Klamfoth, Waverly-Shell Rock Community School District Superintendent of Schools

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