COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — It wasn’t the first time a racial slur had stung the Jordan High senior.
But it was the first time the college-bound pitcher heard it on a baseball field.
“It was a weird situation,” said the boy, whose father asked that we not use their names. “Other places, a couple of times (it’s been used to insult him), but not on the baseball field. ... Especially from a kid I’ve known in the past. It was pretty shocking to hear. I feel like it was directed at me. ... I took offense to it.”
The alleged incident happened Monday as Brighton and Jordan finished a hard-fought, emotional game, the first in a three-game series. The pitcher, who is black, said a Brighton player exchanged words with Jordan’s third baseman and then directed a racial slur at him.
Several parents described the scene afterward as “ugly” and an initial post-game discussion frustrated some of those involved.
“Was it emotionally charged? It was,” his father said. “But regardless of what’s being said back and forth, you don’t go there. Some people want to talk about the peripheral stuff, and the peripheral stuff really doesn’t matter. We just don’t do that. ... It kind of gets a kid at the core.”
Administrators and coaches from both schools discussed the incident with district officials Tuesday morning, and by that afternoon there was a completely different atmosphere at the baseball field.
The teams, who didn’t shake hands after Monday’s game, started the afternoon contest with words from Brighton Principal Tom Sherwood, who said that high school sports are supposed to be an extension of the classroom.
“On occasion we lose that perspective,” he said. “Too often I hear players and fans say things on the field of play that we would never consider saying to others in any other setting. Demeaning comments have no place in high school athletics, in our schools or in our society at large.”
He said racial intolerance cannot be part of an educational system, and he encouraged parents to talk with their children and teach them “that words matter.”
“There are certain words that carry a weight that many students do not comprehend,” he said. “Please, let’s use this unfortunate occasion as an extension of the classroom.”
That, both the boy and his father said, is what they’d like to see happen in the wake of Monday’s ugliness. District spokesman Jeff Haney declined to say what discipline had been taken against the player who allegedly used the slur or Brighton head coach Andy Concepcion. But Concepcion did not coach Tuesday afternoon's game, and the Bengal player accused of using the term was not on the field either.
“I think it was handled perfectly,” the boy’s father said. “They were quick. They made a decision about what they’re going to tolerate. It’s always a tough situation when something like that happens overall, but I think it was handled the right way and speedily.”
The players from both teams seemed to take Sherwood’s plea to “let their true character be reflected on the field of play” to heart, as they lined up and shook hands and then teamed up to give a Brighton player his first-ever at-bat.
Junior Matt Momberger strode to the plate for the first time in his life as the first hitter of the game Tuesday. The team’s manager, who lives with an extremely rare and debilitating genetic nerve disorder, was recruited to come out for the squad last year by Concepcion.
“He has a really rare disorder where he doesn’t feel pain, and he doesn’t sweat,” said his mom, Amber Momberger. “So this is hard. And he’s had 38 surgeries. ... Coach Andy has been working with him, and he determined at the beginning of the week that he would do it today.”
Concepcion had to watch from the press box, but he "got chills and a tear in my eye" when Momberger smacked a grounder to the shortstop.
“He’s practiced every day for this moment,” Concepcion said. “And when I say practice, he’s sitting in the cages with us, throwing baseballs with us, so when we told him he was going to get his at-bat today, he almost hyperventilated. ... It was pretty cool.”
Concepcion said it was Momberger’s attitude that led to his invite to be on the team.
"He’s always a positive guy and he’s good for our program," Concepcion said. "This game is so mentally tough on the kids, and I think Matt coming out, and seeing the challenges Matt has everyday, in everyday life, I think the guys feed off of that and want to do that extra rep, take that extra ground ball because they know Matt would love to be out there with him.”
As a teammate pours water on Momberger in front of the concessions stand, hoping to cool him down, the boy’s mother teared up at the memory of his first hit.
“The boys are really, really good to him and watch out for him,” said Amber Momberger, choking back tears. “It’s just nice. ... It’s a process because he doesn’t feel pain, they have to look out for him more than another special needs child.”
Matt rattled off the pitches as he saw them, and then seemed kind of shocked that Arizona commit Jake Shaver, Jordan’s shortstop, couldn’t field his hit cleanly so he made it to first safely.
“It’s fun,” Matt Momberger said, admitting baseball is his favorite sport. “I see my friends everyday.”
After the game, which Jordan won 12-4, the Jordan pitcher, who hit a home run in the win, said he was happy with how the situation was handled and that the teams could come together in the ways they did. Shaver, who also hit a home run in the win, just smiled shyly when his ‘error’ was discussed post-game.
“I hope we can learn from it,” the Jordan teen said. “And regardless of who says it or who it is said to, it carries a different meaning and shouldn’t be used.”