A high school basketball game between two Central Section rivals took an ugly turn Tuesday night, as a chant from one of the student sections led to a confrontation between administrators from the schools.
Just before the final buzzer of St. Joseph’s 74-57 victory over visiting Righetti in the regular season finale for the two Santa Maria teams, some fans started chanting, “Where’s your passport?” According to the Santa Maria Times, the chant came from the Righetti student section and was apparently directed toward St. Joseph players.
St. Joseph is a private school with a racially diverse student population. The boy’s basketball team’s roster includes one player from France and three from Puerto Rico.
Kind of a disappointing ending to a good game as the visiting student section chanted “where’s your passport?”, apparently at SJHS players. Administrators from both schools exchanged words. There was a charged atmosphere throughout the contest. #santamariatimes pic.twitter.com/xCQU7J5INA— Joe Bailey (@JBaileySMSports) February 12, 2020
A Santa Maria Times video of the incident St. Joseph principal Erinn Dougherty apparently confronting the fans over the chant and engaging in a heated exchange with a man identified as Righetti assistant principal Ted Lyon.
“I did have an emotional reaction to that” chant, Dougherty told The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “I have an Ethiopian daughter — and all these students are my children — so it is personal to me.”
Dougherty said that the team has heard similar chants on the road but she had assured the players that she would not tolerate such behavior at home.
“I want this school to be safe for my students,” she said.
St. Joseph coach Tom Mott, who is also the school’s athletic director, told the Santa Maria Times immediately after the final buzzer, “Anything our crowd or their crowd does is just part of the game.”
On Wednesday morning, Mott clarified to The Los Angeles Times that he wasn’t aware of the controversial cheer at the time he made that comment.
“Obviously any type of inappropriate cheer by anybody isn’t something we welcome in our gym,” he said. “Any type of racism, whether intended or not, has no place in our community.”
Dougherty said she holds “no animosity” toward Lyon or anyone else at Righetti, a public school located across the street from St. Joseph.
“I’m just hoping we can all move forward from this incident and be a stronger community,” she said.
Administrators from Righetti have not responded to messages from The Times.