Winooski students-athletes allegedly face more racist language on soccer field

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 8:34 AM EDT
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - Winooski school officials are calling attention to what they say is another instance of racial slurs on the high school soccer field targeting their students.

It happened at a BFA Fairfax and Winooski girl’s soccer game back on October 18th. Winooski Superintendent Sean McMannon is saying that his student-athletes were targeted with racial and homophobic slurs. The accusations came just before halftime, the game was paused and then continued after officials and the schools spoke to their players. The incident comes a year after the school’s boys’ team was targeted in a similar incident.

Winooski Superintendent Sean McMannon sent a letter to the community outlining the incident, saying in part, “Once again, we find ourselves in a situation where we must react. It saddens me to my core to see our bright, and resilient WHS student-athletes, being the target of racial and homophobic violence.”

McMannon says during the game at BFA Fairfax last Tuesday, one Winooski player was called a “monkey” and another was targeted with comments about their sexuality. In his letter sent last Friday, McMannon says the racist and homophobic comments have had a real and devastating impact on the students.

Franklin West Supervisory Union superintendent John Tague also responded with a statement Monday saying the district “unequivocally condemn{s} acts of racism, homophobia, or hate speech of any kind.” He told WCAX that since the day of the game, the school has followed Vermont Principals’ Association protocols including interviewing anyone who could have been involved. Tague says they found evidence of inappropriate comments from BFA players and fans but were not able to substantiate any racist or homophobic comments.

“It’s unfortunate that that’s the perception, the experience of the Winooski player -- and obviously their perception is their reality -- so if that’s what they believe they heard, we have to take that at its face value, and that’s not something we are comfortable -- having someone come to our school and experience or believe they experienced,” Tague said.

Now, he says BFA is working to continue the education of students, fans, and parents with the Racial Justice Alliance. He also says he has been in contact with Winooski officials to hopefully facilitate restorative conversations.

The Vermont Principals’ Association oversees athletics in Vermont and after incidents last year targetting the Winooski boy’s soccer team, the VPA revamped its policies on handling the situations.

There have been 12 reported incidents of racial or homophobic comments so far this year that have been reported to the VPA using their online form. Now VPA president Lauren Thomas says it’s about making students who feel harmed feel whole again. “Our ultimate goal is we don’t want these things to happen. But when they do happen, we want people to have a voice, we want people to feel valued. They want to feel heard that they can trust the person that they are talking to and that is the systems that we’ve created and that’s what our goal is,” she said.

The updated guidance from the VPA encourages anyone who hears or experiences improper conduct at high school sports games to report using their online form that they hope can better inform schools on inappropriate situations that arise.

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