Opinion: WPIAL Must Do More to Fight Racism

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Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)


This year and every year, many high school teams in America will travel to compete in communities that are hostile toward them solely because they are not white.

An incident at the Penn Hills-Connellsville soccer game Sept. 6 was one egregious case, but throughout my 22 years as a (white) teacher in the Woodland Hills School District, and as a mother of three current and former Penn Hills athletes, I can recount numerous more like it in varying degrees. The problem is bigger than Penn Hills and Connellsville, affecting many other school communities under the WPIAL's sports jurisdiction.

My oldest son's first experience with racism in sports was when he was in eighth grade. A player from a neighboring school, outmatched by our defense, assailed one of his soccer teammates with slurs. My son was profoundly troubled by it; he had no idea that such a thing was possible.

Over the years, my Woodland Hills students have shared stories about people shouting the n-word at band members and athletes. Spectators and athletes have reported being spit on. A student from a local Catholic high school dressing in a prison uniform for a WPIAL football playoff game against Woodland Hills — suggesting our students were criminals. Students in our marching band once had fried chicken thrown at them as they entered a stadium in one of the more affluent suburbs.

The discrimination against our children comes from private and public schools, rich and poor, but mostly from predominantly white communities.

WPIAL officials did not address the aggressive racial hatred directed at our players during the Sept. 6 game. They told players they would watch out for it. I cannot fault officials for not hearing everything on the field, but I do fault them for a "hands off" approach when players notify them — as the Penn Hills players did. This kind of officiating can lead to players taking things into their own hands. I am grateful and proud that our soccer players did not retaliate with fisticuffs, but this is not always the case. When children in districts like ours do occasionally lose their cool, their retaliation is interpreted as a character defect. They are the ones viewed as "thugs" — not the antagonists who taunted them with racial slurs in the first place.

There are many who would argue that Penn Hills should be satisfied with the WPIAL decision. After all, WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley acknowledged that "there were in all probability some negative interactions in the field"; the board deemed our players' statements "reasonably credible"; and the WPIAL required the Connellsville Area School District to hire an outside consultant to train its student-athletes regarding racial and cultural sensitivities.

I would argue that this decision confirms that black athletes do not matter in the eyes of the WPIAL, because if they mattered, the WPIAL would have defended our athletes on the field and in that boardroom — where they were victimized a second time in recalling the indignities of discrimination that day.

Students like ours have always demonstrated the courage to play through adversity. Likewise, the WPIAL must demonstrate courage by taking an active role in addressing racism in competition, which includes training their officials to handle these difficult situations. Simply scapegoating the host school — in this case, Connellsville — is irresponsible and shortsighted. In short, we would not have had such an incident if the WPIAL officials on the field had managed the game.

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October 8, 2018


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