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Friday, March 16, 2012

Sucking, Chicken, and STD -- Just Another Valley, PHS Game?

Bob Strickley and Ryan Scott Ottney of the Portsmouth Daily Times reported the following after reviewing a video of this recent basketball game:

"During Saturday’s Division III Southeast District Final between Portsmouth and Valley high schools at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio, the crowd was heard chanting “ribs and chicken” at Portsmouth’s black players on the court. The crowd was also heard shouting “STD,” and “You can’t read” at Portsmouth players, and shouting “You suck” at Valley players."

Portsmouth coach Gene Collins said the chants really didn't affect the play of his team: Portsmouth won the contest 54-50. He said he understood this chanting was the act of a few unruly students and not reflective of Valley's players, coaches, administration or community, and he said his team didn't hold any animosity toward the Valley players or their coaches for the incident.

Collins did say, “(But) they’re (chants) very hurtful when you are making comments in reference to that kind of stuff.” He also reported that it wasn't the first time he had "found" racism at high school games in Scioto County and that the county is "a setting where people still have problems with race." Collins even said that racism might be what’s keeping Portsmouth out of the Southern Ohio Conference (SOC), a league that includes every other Scioto County school.

Valley’s Superintendent Patricia Ciraso said school officials attending the game did stop some of the rowdy chanting, but none reported hearing the chants of “ribs and chicken.” She said students did admit saying some things that might have been inappropriate, but she told the Times the students never had any racial intent with these chants.

Ciraso released this statement regarding Valley’s ongoing investigation into the use of offensive chants by its high school students:

“The Valley Local School District Board of Education, its administration and staff will continue to take actions to uncover any misconduct of its students related to the basketball playoff game and to administer appropriate disciplinary action,” the statement said. “The district will use all available avenues to send a strong message to students that inappropriate remarks and communications will not be tolerated.” (Ryan Scott Ottney and Bob Strickley, "Realities of Racism: Coaches, Players Dealing With Racism in High School Sports," Portsmouth Daily Times, March 16 2012)

I am a 1969 Valley graduate who played football and baseball during high school. I returned to Valley High to teach English in 1974 and taught there for the next 27 years while also assisting with the football and softball programs.

During that time, our school played against many teams -- Portsmouth, Notre Dame, Hazard Ky., Boys Industrial School, and others -- who had many black players. The games, though fiercely competitive, were conducted and controlled with respect to proper decency and appropriate sportsmanship. To my knowledge, players and coaches exhibited proper respect during these contests.

This is not to say certain racial undercurrents were not present at these games: I know a significant segment of the fans had an issue with "Scioto County blacks" whom they referred to as "niggers living in Bucktown." And, I know the competitive play from a black player prompted some of these people to begin stewing in their "ribs and chicken" mentality -- an ever-present potential powder keg for violence.

I'm also sure isolated racial incidents did occur; however, fans never "trash talked" with organized chants containing derogatory, inflammatory content to degrade a race, a religion, or any condition of an opposing player or coach. A very direct supervisory presence made certain proper sports decorum was maintained during all games.

I believe as soon as fans, especially students, use taunting behaviors meant to inflame a crowd, school officials should see that it stops immediately and request arena officials to announce that any further outbursts will lead to removal from the stands and, if needed, appropriate action from enforcement or school authorities.

You see, saying you are not prejudiced, confirming that you are not prejudiced by associating with a few minority members, and actually living a life void of prejudice actions are all different integrated mindsets. Most county schools have very few minority students and minority parents.

By the overwhelmingly Caucasian composition of district populations, these schools seldom have to deal with in-house racial issues. Their beliefs are not often tempered in practice. And, of course, some people in county districts are prejudiced solely by stubbornly adhering to the racist views of their ancestors. Guess who had a grandpa who once wore a KKK robe and hood? Yep, that would be me.

At heated sports contests, environments ripe for bandwagon blunders and potential mob mentalities, emotion can overcome common decency. Players know there is no place for this. Fanatics, too, must be taught that taunting "in your face" racial slurs and other derogatory actions and language are grounds for removal and/or charges.

Imagine being a young black or interracial child in the stands during a game when the black/white division is so obvious. The child hears these chants and asks his/her parent what they mean. No other answer can be given: "Son/Daughter, this means the fans for the other team think people of our race are different and dumber. Some of them don't like you and me because of our color."

Racism today is more subtle than ever. It no longer involves using the "N" word in public or directly confronting a human being because of his/her race. Oh, it is still alive in Scioto County with the same old hurtful intentions, but it is almost universally denied by people while they occupy their public circles and, instead, the racism is practiced privately through clannish real life exclusions and rude "good old boy" derision. And, yes, I don't deny reverse racism does occur, just not as often.

What a shame that some wish to take their ugly prejudices into something as meaningful and family oriented as a high school tournament basketball game. The contest has nothing to do with which crowd can dominate the other through their fanatic actions. Somewhere along the line maniacal, crazy crowd displays aimed at "showing up" the opposition became equated with good sportsmanship. Today, it is popular for many fans to cheer "against" the other team instead of restricting their reactions to cheering "for" their own team.

I attended Valley grades 6-12 and lived in Lucasville. I am a proud Valley graduate and a Valley teacher so blessed with many, many wonderful students and friends. Also, I have lived in Portsmouth for over 35 years, and I have lived and worked hand-in-hand with African-Americans. To say that I didn't go through a personal learning curve with my own racial issues would be a lie. I was a product of the Clay and Valley districts, so I had no experience with minorities besides competing against them in sports until 1970. I was a product of the "pure white" mold too.

I am both both ashamed of my past prejudice and content with my present views on equality -- views that were formed through direct experiences and deep soul searching. I feel I was very fortunate to find friends who made me realize how ignorant sorting people by "whites and blacks" truly was. Trips to Mississippi and North Carolina in the early seventies solidified by views. I saw and experienced segregation there, and it sickened me.

Color is not an issue to me. I neither choose my friends nor my family members based on whether they are black, white, brown, red, or purple. I tried very hard to teach my students the history of racism while I taught literature courses. I know how good intentioned they were after their studies, but, at the same time, I knew certain influences would press upon them and encourage them to develop the white race superiority mentality.

Back to the tournament game. It is no surprise that a group of immature Valley students and PHS students would take the opportunity to chant terrible, hurtful comments in the heat of competition. Maybe they meant no real harm, but no one can deny that racism does exist in Scioto County. All of this nonsense should be stopped. Yet, I believe we have special reason to be aware of racial slurs.

Like all who must learn by experience (some by hard knocks and some by easy attitude adjustments), the students should be punished for their actions. But, I would not be surprised if their parents fought any disciplinary action while giving excuses for the utterances of their children. In fact, I bet some parents were just as guilty as their kids -- they were probably chanting these things themselves. A cycle is evident. Unfortunately, there is a negative attitude and way of life some of the older generation want to instill vigorously in their offspring.

Whether mockery, slurs, race cards, or comebacks -- the crowd has no business getting in the way of an athletic contest. Attempts by the spectators to "fire up" the contestants can ignite inappropriate, crude behaviors that fuel deeper scars. The best athletes respect their opponents and desire only to prove their prowess against the best competition.

As far as a news story goes, the editorial on this single tournament game was "old hat." If the paper is really interested in doing investigative journalism as to why Portsmouth High School is not a part of the SOC, they should talk to much older heads and many more present and past officials of member schools. They should not attempt to single out blame on any one district or on any one incident or on any one cause. I know something about the history, and it seems only fair to print the entire story for all to read. I'm sure that edition would boost sales. Maybe the Times should run it in a series.

I love Valley High School. Three of my children attended Portsmouth High School, so I love PHS. I feel like Rodney King asking, "Can't we all just get along?" Sometimes my own home county disappoints me and draws my attention to something that should be fixed. When you are at the crossroads of an opinion, don't wear blinders. Take them off and look long in both directions. Then, choose the path you know is most beneficial, not only to you,  but to all of those behind you as well.

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