Randy Hollis: A lot of gray areas about Alta's Black & White Game

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 6 2015 8:40 p.m. MDT

SANDY — For as long as anyone can remember, Alta High has always played its annual "Black and White Game," an intrasquad scrimmage that signals the start of the Hawks' football season.

The game features the entire Alta High School squad — seniors, juniors and sophomores — squaring off in a series of scrimmages that showcase all team members for proud parents, family members, friends and the Hawks' student body and fans.

Well, there won't be a "Black and White Game" at Alta this year.

Oh, sure, they're still going to play their annual intrasquad game next Saturday, but due to (depending on who you listen to) — either racial tensions at the school or what one observer called "political correctness run amok" — they just don't want to publicize it as the "Black and White Game" any more.

As per an edict from district headquarters, posters promoting the game as such were taken down at the school this past week.

So whadda we call it now, the "Gray Game?"

Black and white, of course, are two of the official school colors, the other one being silver. Black and white are also the colors of the football team's home and away jerseys — hence the "Black and White Game."

Well, duh. (No, they don't have silver jerseys).

And, yes, there are black and white students who attend the school, just as there are black and white players on the team. The issue, though, isn't as black and white as those Alta football jerseys. Instead, it seems to come in varying shades of gray.

It all started back in March, when a male student put a white pillowcase on his head, with eyeholes cut into it, and wore it during the school's Spirit Bowl assembly.

Some reacted with outrage, saying the white-hooded boy — who apologized and was subsequently suspended from school — was symbolic of the ultra-racist Klu Klux Klan, which reigned with such atrocious violence and terror for so many years in the Deep South.

Others pleaded that the boy was just trying to show his school spirit, that the incident was not racially motivated and was blown way out of proportion.

After all, the boy was dressed all in white — his class color — at the Spirit Bowl, where sophomores wear red, juniors wear white and seniors wear black to display their class pride. Students were chanting "white power" and "black power" — oblivious to what those words signified in the racially charged 1960s and '70s.

There were reportedly other "serious incidents" involving Alta High — an off-campus fight between a black and white student, alleged racial slurs used by students at basketball games, students text-messaging photos of a burning cross and a hooded person in KKK attire — that served to put the school's reputation at stake.

"Everyone's responsible for resolving it," Canyons School District Superintendent David S. Doty said in an earlier Deseret News story. "I refuse to be the superintendent of a school that allows that kind of behavior to go on."

All of this brought on an investigation by the Canyons School District. Principal Mont Widerberg and vice principal Mark Montague were placed on paid administrative leave. Widerberg wound up taking an early retirement, and Montague eventually moved on to another school.

Intolerance? Discrimination? Racism? Civil rights violations? Hate crimes?

Am I totally naive in thinking that, over the last 40-50 years, we've done a lot to try and overcome those issues to a great extent in this country of ours?

Apparently so.

Three Alta High students were issued misdemeanor citations for their actions. The school district created a Civility Commission from diverse backgrounds to "foster a climate of respect, tolerance and civility" in its schools and in the community at large. Experts were brought in to offer tolerance training to teachers and students.

And the "Black and White Game" as they've always known it will be no more.

Morgan Brown, Alta's athletic director, admitted that there may have been some insensitivity regarding last spring's Spirit Bowl incident. He also acknowledged that Alta High probably doesn't have as much diversity in its student population as some other schools. But, as a faculty member for 22 years, he adamantly defended the school.

"Alta's a good school," he said. "And I don't think Alta High has had any more problems (racial or otherwise) than any other school.

"Hey, this is our annual scrimmage game, and you can call it whatever you want. But we're still gonna play it and give those kids an opportunity to receive some recognition on Saturday night."

I can't help but wonder whether, if that young man had been a sophomore wearing a red pillowcase on his head or a senior wearing a black pillowcase on his head last March, would it have caused so much commotion in the Alta community?

Just curious.

Like they always say, come on, can't we all just get along?

At times, some people are crass, insensitive and blatantly offensive. And at other times, some people are too easily offended, or just choose to be offended.

Here's hoping the Hawks' players and coaches, students and faculty, fans and the greater community can resolve this and get past any underlying issues they may have. Learn from this, put it behind them and move forward. Just respect one another, come together as one and have a great year.

And here's hoping that, someday, when it comes to racial tension, intolerance and discrimination in our society, we all become truly color blind.