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Catholic Youth League Urged to Investigate Racial Bias

Andy Berg

A Catholic school in Cleveland is asking the Catholic Youth Organization to investigate allegations of racial bias within the league.

The CYO is the governing body for youth sports associated with member schools of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Back in February, St. Francis was playing St. Joan of Arc in a middle school basketball game, and attendees say a referee treated St. Francis unfairly and possible on the basis of race.

St. Francis head coach Alwyn Reid said a referee ““was demeaning when he was talking to the kids. He called [a player] ‘boy.’ I understand he is a young man, but as an African-American, that term does not fit well for us.”

St. Francis is an all Black team.

“It made me feel kind of mad, and, at the same time, I felt sad because I was getting treated differently,” the player told 19 News.

The referee also demanded that some parents who were not seated in the stands leave the game. The parents said they were trying to maintain social distancing but the referee persisted in an argumentative manner, which resulted in police being called.

“If it were two predominantly white schools, would the police have been called?” asked Angela Pennington, the mother of one of the St. Francis players.

“We just felt like we were being targeted for the color of our skin,” said Marquita Durant, another parent.

Coach Reid eventually pulled his team off the court, and St. Francis was forced to forfeit its next game. Reid was suspended for pulling his team and cursing, which he apologized for later.

The CYO said the referee who was working the game would not be assigned to any future St. Francis games. Meanwhile, St. Francis principal Scott Embacher said the referee would be allowed to continue working other games.

“With the CYO system... I’m completely disappointed,” said Reid. “They took their word and ran with it. You have almost congruent stories coming from St. Joan of Arc parents about the refs’ actions. But none of that went into consideration.”

Letters were written by a parent at St. Joan of Arc and the team’s head coach, both referenced mistreatment by the referee. The head coach’s letter was signed by every member of his team.

“We are writing to thank you for visiting our school and want to express how sorry we are that we were unable to finish our game,” the letter from the team said.

In a letter to Embacher, Mary Ann King, the athletic administrator for the CYO wrote:

“This preventable incident violates the mission of CYO to know God, to love God, and to serve God through athletics. The behavior of coaches, parents, and fans that occurred at this game are troubling and raise questions about the culture of your CYO programs.

“Your athletes are to be commended for their positive actions when the adults present behaved poorly. The coaches are members of the team whose behaviors hurt their own players most of all. I strongly urge you to continue to work with your coaches, parents and fans to build a CYO culture where this will never happen again.”

“There is systemic change that needs to happen,” Embacher said. “Without that systemic change, CYO can’t be the organization it aspires to be.”

A joint statement by the CYO and St. Francis was issued to 19 News on March 12: 

The Catholic Youth Organization of the Diocese of Cleveland (“CYO”) and St. Francis School exist to inspire young people to know, love, and serve God. As Catholic Institutions, CYO and St. Francis School believe that each person is made in the image and likeness of God and that racism is an evil that has no place in society.

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