A high school ended its football season after a racist chat. Anger and rumors ensued
The stadium lights blazed onto the brand new turf and the varsity football players braced themselves for the struggles and triumphs of the game ahead.
Then, just moments before the match between Amador High, a mostly white school perched in the foothills southeast of Sacramento, and Rosemont High, a largely Black and Latino school tucked into the city’s industrial eastern fringe, Amador officials abruptly called it off. Everyone would have to leave. And to make sure they departed safely, the police department in the bucolic tourist town of Sutter Creek had called in reinforcements from the Amador County sheriff’s department and other agencies.
As shaken parents and kids made their way home, rumors swept both communities that an ugly act of racism had triggered the extraordinary action — something so serious that school officials in this conservative community felt compelled to respond strongly.
That aborted game on Sept. 16 marked the sudden end of the Amador High School football season — a shocker in a community where high school football games are the social event of the week. In the following days, the district’s superintendent, Torie Gibson, announced that she had placed three staff members on leave and alerted law enforcement of some allegations from a “disturbing” chat thread involving a majority of the football team. She noted that officials are “very limited in what can be shared with the public.”
Many in the community said the chat was titled: “Kill the Blacks.”
The incident comes amid a national conversation on racism in sports, and football in particular, ranging from the renaming of NFL teams to discrimination against Black coaches. But Northern California has recently had more than its share of wrenching episodes.
Last week, the football team of another high school near Sacramento, River Valley in Yuba City, forfeited its season after a video showed several players staging a reenactment of a “slave auction.” And last spring at another Sacramento-area high school, Oak Ridge, a football player reportedly taunted a Black soccer player with “ape sounds” during a match.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees high school sports, said in a statement that it supported the decisions by Amador and River Valley to end their seasons. “Discrimination in any form or any acts that are disrespectful or demeaning are unacceptable,” the organization said.
At Rosemont, many parents said they were disturbed by yet another reminder that their children face discrimination and even threats to their safety because of race. Rosemont school officials did not respond to phone calls.
“It was scary, and now it’s kinda scary every game,” said Arquelle Colson, who is Black and whose child is on the Rosemont JV team.
In Sutter Creek, the cancellation of football has prompted impassioned conversations about race, and racism in a community that is 90% white and in a county so far to the right that it signed more petitions per capita to recall Gavin Newsom than any other place in the state.
On Facebook pages dedicated to the community’s schools, people have traded accusations of racism, questioned each others’ child-rearing philosophies and fulminated against the school administration.
Connie Blackman, whose grandchildren attend Amador County schools and who supported the decision to cancel the season, said she found it remarkable that many people seemed more upset about the fact that kids aren’t allowed to play than they are about what they might have done.
But when Blackman, who is white, voiced that idea while sitting at an outdoor table in one of the many restaurants lining Sutter Creek’s Main Street, her friend Dave Lefebvre, who is also white, took issue with it. Perhaps the reprehensible title of the group chat was a misunderstanding, he said. Maybe it was referring to the fact that Rosemont’s jerseys are black, not to the race of the players?
Blackman wasn’t having it. “How many black teams does Amador play, Dave?”
Lefebevre turned to her with wide eyes. “Do you think anyone here really meant they wanted to kill those kids?”
Blackman shook her head, sadly. “Dave,” she said. “Yeah.”
Later Blackman, who moved to Amador County from Southern California four decades ago, added that the towns’ debate over football had brought home how the tenor of political discourse had changed in the Trump era.
“I love this community, and I don’t regret a minute of living here, but we have always been able to have very lively heated discussions, without making it angry and ugly, and the fact that for the most part, you can’t do that anymore, it makes me really sad.”
Lefebvre agreed with Connie — with whom he said he enjoys frequently spirited discussions because of their opposing politics — that it was “a bummer.”
He said, like many in the community, he is still waiting to hear what actually happened. But he added: “This is not, in my opinion, a racist community. I could be totally naive,” he added, but he did not believe the students meant what some people think they meant.
Up and down the picturesque streets around the high school, it was almost impossible to find anyone who lacked an opinion and a heated one at that — even as many acknowledged that verified facts remained elusive.
“They’re punishing the entire team without knowing who the guilty parties are,” said Mike Mulvehill, who lives down the street from the high school and whose grandchildren attend district schools. And they are also “punishing the entire town and all the other students,” he added, because everyone in town loves football and attending the high school games.
“It cannot possibly be every varsity player” who has done something wrong, he said. “By punishing people who are not guilty, what kind of lesson are you teaching?”
Officials said a video shows students from a Yuba City, Calif., high school pointing and yelling dollar amounts at Black students in their underwear.
Maybe, for once, officials were teaching the right lesson, countered Vanessa and Desmond Feher Castagna, who are white and who recently moved to the area from the big city of Sacramento with their two children who are high school students.
If some members of the team had engaged in terrible behavior, it was the right thing to do, they said. Still, they said, the incident — and the fury about it — had brought to the forefront something they generally tried not to dwell on: the vast political differences they felt existed between them and their neighbors, whom they had grown to love.
“We don’t talk politics up here,” said Vanessa. “The community exists to support each other. Our neighbors who we would trust with our lives have the most opposite views politically.”
Gibson, the superintendent, said many in the community were engaging in rampant speculation, but for legal reasons she couldn’t provide more detail. Still, she said the incident — and the furor it ignited — has underscored the “desperate” need for many in the community to undergo training in implicit racial bias.
Among Rosemont parents, the incident in Amador is still raw, even weeks after the canceled game.
One mother of a Black Rosemont player, who said she didn’t want to give her name to avoid bringing scrutiny onto her son, said her child had obtained screenshots from someone on the Amador team.
“As a parent it makes me scared,” she said, adding that she now wanted to be on the sidelines of every game, “to have an eye on my child.”
Another woman, who is Black and whose much younger brother is a star player on the Rosemont team, said she was among the family members who drove up to Amador for the game, only to witness police officers converge at the stadium moments before the match was canceled.
Rosemont parents were not refunded for their entry tickets, she said, but they were offered free pizza from the snack bar, which the woman said she declined.
“They just threatened us,” she said, shaking her head in wonder. “You think we’re going to eat with you?”
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