WINOOSKI — Hundreds of people turned out under the lights at Winooski High School Tuesday night to show support for the school’s boys soccer team, which the city school district’s superintendent said faced racist abuse during a game earlier this month against Enosburg Falls High School.
“This is what community looks like,” Winooski High Principal Jean Berthiaume told the crowd. “We come out for each other. We support each other. We stand up for each other.”
Superintendent Sean McMannon said in a statement posted to the district’s Twitter on Friday that Winooski High players of color “were called the N-word, monkey, and terrorist” during the Sept. 18 game, which was in Winooski.
McMannon also called on the Vermont Principals’ Association, the governing body for school sports in Vermont, to take stronger actions to combat racism in the state.
Jay Nichols, executive director of the association, said Monday the association was aware of the allegations and was investigating a Winooski player who headbutted an Enosburg Falls player.
Officials decided Sept. 24 “to begin immediately developing a reporting system for any racially related incidents at any high school sporting event in Vermont,” the association said in a statement Tuesday.
During Winooski’s Tuesday night game against visiting Oxbow High, many people in the crowd of all ages wore black shirts that read “Winooski Strong” on the front. Some brought handmade signs bearing messages such as “We Believe Black Lives Matter” and “We [heart] Winooski Soccer.”
Kiara Mack, a senior at Winooski High and goalie on the girls soccer team, held a sign that read “Give Racism The Red Card.”
She and other students came out to the game, she said, to support the boys team and speak out against racism that the boys and girls soccer teams experience.
“For the girls, we see racism and sexism a lot of the time,” said Mack, who is a person of color. “And it's just really rough.”
Mack said it was “disgusting to watch” the boys game versus Enosburg Falls earlier this month. Both teams “pushed back” at each other, she said, but the referees seemed harder on the Winooski players and made calls she felt were unfair.
“I'm always out here fighting for them,” Mack said of Winooski’s team. “And I think I can see when our boys are doing too much and when we're getting actually targeted.”
In this case, she felt it was the latter.
Mack also described hearing racist comments during the game. She heard a kid in the crowd say “I’ll be waiting for you after the game, [N-word],” she said. When one Winooski player took a hard push, she said someone told another Winooski player that “your people can take it.”
She also heard the words “monkey” and “terrorist” coming from the crowd, and said the game’s referees did not do enough to stop abuse from happening.
“It was like, OK, maybe you're not being the racist one,” Mack said, speaking about one of the referees. “But you're allowing someone to be racist.”
David and Misuk Weaver of Underhill were standing a few yards back from the crowd before Tuesday night’s game got underway.
Racism in the state sometimes “exists behind the scenes,” out of public view, David Weaver said.
“When it’s overt, it concerns me even more so,” he said, speaking about the game against Enosburg Falls.
Mellisa Cain, who helped organize within the community to get people out for Tuesday’s game, said the night was about “showing support for the kids.”
“Hopefully, the community will continue to come out to games to say, ‘We love you, and we're here,’” she said.
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