Policies regarding fan behavior at sporting events are being reviewed by school district officials after the publisher of the Outlook newspaper wrote a column reporting several La Cañada High School students shouted racial and homophobic slurs at a basketball game.
The incident allegedly occurred during a Feb. 23 CIF Southern Section championship game between LCHS and Ontario’s Colony High School at Azusa Pacific University, where school officials have confirmed some 300 Spartan fans crowded the stands.
The Feb. 28 column, written by publisher Charlie Plowman and placed on the front page of his paper, stated a group of students hurled insults about the ethnic heritage, sexual identities and weight of the players on the opposing team.
“The endless taunts reeked of racism,” the publisher wrote. “They reeked of homophobia. And some would say they reeked of privilege.”
Plowman further alleged La Cañada High School administrators present at the game failed to respond to or discipline the offending students and, at one point, a district employee physically blocked him from recording the students’ taunts with his cellphone.
In a sit-down interview with the Valley Sun on Tuesday, La Cañada Unified School District Supt. Wendy Sinnette said she and other officials immediately began investigating the incident after they read Plowman’s column last Thursday. That investigation is still ongoing.
Photographs of the crowd show at least 10 administrators, teachers, support staff and the head of LCHS security were present at the game, with more attending to support the school. As part of the investigation, administrators provided “extensive” written statements about the event.
None of those statements corroborated Plowman’s claims of racist and homophobic comments. Sinnette said the publisher met with her and other officials on Monday.
“We asked if there was any help he could give in terms of identifying students. He wasn’t able to identify anyone,” the superintendent said.
More than 22 students were interviewed by district officials and, as a result, some disciplinary actions were meted out. Sinnette would not comment on the nature of the actions that were disciplined, citing student privacy, but said they were not of a level portrayed in Plowman’s editorial.
Exactly what kind of comments were made were unclear, as Plowman did not specify the content of what he heard in his column. Calls to the publisher seeking comment were not returned, however on Wednesday Plowman emailed the Valley Sun a lengthy statement in which he maintained, “these vulgarities I cited absolutely occurred — 100% no doubt.”
“I also believe that one of the key findings from this investigation is going to be that LCHS officials could have handled the situation differently, which would have likely resulted in a different outcome,” he continued.
Asked whether his organization had received any complaints from the public about the alleged troubling behavior, CIF Assistant Commissioner Thom Simmons said, “To date? No.” He added no one from his office had witnessed the behavior described.
Pete Marshall, a freelance sports writer who covered the Feb. 23 game for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and was seated in the same area as Plowman, said he recalls fan behavior on par with what’s heard at any high stakes game but nothing racist or homophobic.
“The most I would have heard was maybe some profanity,” he said Monday. “It was loud and maybe a little rude. I just didn’t hear anything — I would have mentioned it in my article.”
Marshall also reached out to Colony High School coach Jerry De Fabiis, who told him neither he nor the school’s principal heard of any such remarks being made or reported.
Valley Sun reporter Vince Nguyen echoed Marshall’s comments, but acknowledged he was seated toward the other end of the court from Plowman during the game.
While LCUSD officials continue to examine the events of Feb. 23, Sinnette said steps are being taken to make sure hurtful comments are reported and any appropriate actions taken. Moving forward, lead administrators will introduce themselves at sporting events as the point person for anyone wishing to report behavior outside the district’s code of conduct.
Sinnette said teachers have already begun to have discussions in the classroom regarding the incident and fostering empathy for others, while La Cañada High Interim Principal Jim Cartnal is planning similar conversations with employees. Additionally, administrators will post and discuss expectations of the school’s fan code of conduct.
“People are saying, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to bring in sensitivity training?’ That’s an option. But I also think we have structures and programs in place — we just need to connect all the dots.”