I hear it every year. But this year it was pretty bad. This year was more out in front; it was more blatant. —Evric Gray
DRAPER — Sam Velez said he’s never experienced anything like he did this past weekend at the 2A state basketball tournament in Richfield. His teammate Darrin Gethers, however, said he’s experienced similar incidents during football season and region competition this school year.
The Summit Academy basketball players and their coaches said they were the victims of racial slurs while competing for the 2A state basketball title at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield Friday and Saturday night.
While the most serious incident occurred after the tournament at a local convenience store and involved adults — not other students — Summit Academy coach Evric Gray said school administrators and Utah High School Activities Association officials need to be more proactive about eliminating the incidents.
“I am physically and mentally drained because of all of this stuff that happens in region,” he said. “If we don’t get ahead of it, something is going to happen.”
Gray said Summit Academy has dealt with incidents throughout the years, but this past weekend people were just more open with their insults.
“I hear it every year,” he said of complaints from his players that opposing teams or fans pelt them with racial slurs. “They run to me and tell me what happened. But this year it was pretty bad. This year was more out in front; it was more blatant.”
The issues this past weekend began in the team’s semifinal win over Emery High.
During that game, players reported being called racial slurs, including the “n-word,” Gray said. And then they said, during the third quarter, Emery’s fan section started chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
While that chant was confusing to some, others saw it as an attempt to label the kids as outsiders who don’t belong in the tournament or in the state.
“We all know what that means,” Gray said. “They’re not white. It happened a couple of years ago at South Summit. Their student section was yelling “U-S-A! Kentucky Fried Chicken and Oreo. We should be immuned to it.”
UHSAA officials confirmed that the student section and some of the adjacent fans chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” but it lasted only about a minute and then stopped. That account was confirmed by a Deseret News reporter who was at the tournament and heard the chant, as well. UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said no one brought any allegations of racist language or racial slurs being used during the game by fans or opposing players.
“They never came and approached (UHSAA staff) about anything,” said Cuff, who was in Cedar City overseeing the 3A tournament.
The referees who worked the semifinal games said they did not hear any racial slurs or insults being leveled by either team’s players, according to UHSAA assistant director Jeff Cluff, who oversees the assignment of officials.
Emery coach Todd Jeffs said he also was not confronted with allegations about any bad behavior from players or fans.
“Nothing has been reported to me,” said Jeffs. “Definitely nothing racial. We had some parents upset about the recruiting nature of their school, but that’s the only thing I heard. It was actually a fairly mundane atmosphere for a game.”
He said he heard the “U-S-A!” chant but didn’t feel that was in reference to anything racial. He felt it was a leftover chant used when Wasatch Academy, a boarding school that did attract students and players from around the world, beat Rich in the 1A tournament a few years ago.
“I’m not saying they're angels,” Jeffs said of his players, “but they’re really good kids on the team, not mouthy. I don’t think it’s their character or nature at all.”
Deseret News writer Dominic Garcia was covering the tournament, and said he heard a few adults, where parents and relatives often sit, behind press row (across the arena from the student sections) yelling that the Summit Academy players were not from Utah or this country during the game.
And at the end of the game, the Emery student section chanted, “We’re not recruited!”
Some of the friction has been building in the smaller classifications for the last few years. With more and more charter schools opening along the Wasatch Front and competing in sports, they’re often 1A and 2A size schools. Charter schools are free public high schools, but they do not have boundaries. That fact, just as it is with private schools, is an issue for rural programs who feel at a disadvantage competing against urban schools without boundaries.
It’s something the UHSAA has grappled with during the past few alignments, but it seems to become a bigger issue when charter or private schools have success in tournament play.
But Gray said directing racial slurs at youth is not an acceptable way to deal with the frustration about how the state aligns regions or classifications.
“The next time I hear someone say, ‘Our kids work hard; they’ve been together since third grade?’ does that mean our kids don’t work hard?” Gray said.
He believes there would be fewer issues if they competed against urban schools with more diverse student populations.
The team hasn’t really celebrated its first 2A basketball championship because after the title game, several of the boys walked to a Maverik convenience store near the hotel to get drinks and snacks.
The boys said they were being watched by a woman who told Gethers he was “lucky (he) didn’t get kicked out of the game tonight.”
She swore at him and the boys said they were just trying to have fun. They told KSL that the woman followed them outside as other vehicles pulled up. They left the parking lot and one of the cars followed them and as it passed, the adult flipped them off and called them the “n-word.”
“We said we got to tell our coach,” Gethers said. “We’re just scared that more people are going to come at us.”
Their coach told them to stay in their room, and the police were called, and an investigation is ongoing.
The team left first thing in the morning.
“It was the quietest bus ride ever,” Gray said. “We won a championship and I haven’t even celebrated.”
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NCAACP Salt Lake Branch and Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, said she plans to investigate the incident.
“The NAACP is concerned about all forms of discrimination, whether in the workplace, schools, football fields or on the basketball playing courts,” Williams said. “Discrimination cannot be ignored as a small issue. It must be confronted and addressed when it happens. Adults as well as youth have an obligation to treat everyone with respect. Adults can make corrections to adults and youth to youth when they see injustices occurring. Penalties should be given out to players, referees as well as parents for making derogatory remarks on the playing field or in the classroom. No one should fear retaliation for reporting such incidents.”