Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Day 9: #SOL16- On Basketball Games, SAT Chants, and Social Justice

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Last night, I had a post ready to go, but at 10:30 pm, I got a text from my daughter with a link to a newspaper article that was going to run in our paper this morning. I have spent the last twenty hours percolating and processing the article and its implications. 

Let's back up to last Friday night. My senior daughter's varsity basketball team played the top team in the state in the second round of the state tournament. It's important to know that we live in a relatively affluent suburb, and we were playing a charter school team from Hartford, a school known for its stellar basketball teams. People predicted that the game would be a blowout, predictions and speculations that enraged my daughter and her teammates. As it turned out, the game was anything but a blowout. It was a hard-fought, competitive, fairly played, and fairly ref'ed game. It was tied at the half. Tied at the end of three periods. With 45 seconds, we were down by 3, and that's when the other team pulled away. In the end, we lost by 9. For any of you who are familiar with end of game strategy, we were fouling, and they were making their foul shots. That's why Capitol Prep won by so many points.

Enough said about the game. Let's talk about the Farmington fans whose behavior was embarrassing on many levels. Our fans came in with sunglasses and Hawaiian gear, and they made their presence known by joining the opposing high school's soloist in her singing of the National Anthem. Their singing was loud and off key. Throughout the game, our athletic director managed our fans. I wish I could remember exactly some of the management he had to do, but I was pretty focused on the game. I will say that Capital Prep's sportsmanship wasn't perfect. Their cheerleaders and mascot were purposely distracting when we shot free throws, and there was some under the radar fouling and pushing on the part of both teams. Since this article's running, I have heard about other instances of very poor fan behavior on their part. Not to make excuses for either set of fans, but the game was a tight, tense battle of committed high school athletes. I wish we could just celebrate and respect those players!

When the outcome of the game was clear, with about 20 seconds left on the clock, some of our fans began a chat, "SAT Scores." I've had people ask what that means. It was a derisive chant, suggesting that Farmington's students do better on the SATs. Our AD stopped the chant right away and spoke to the students who probably started it, but the damage was done. This morning's paper ran the story on the front page. You can read it here.

There are so many issues this story and the way it has been reported has raised. From a parental standpoint, I'm sad for my daughter and her team. The paper made it sound like the game was a blowout, and it was anything but. The girls on the team feel like the game and their play was unfairly described. The paper also made it sound like Capital Prep players and fans were nothing but respectable and gracious--not completely the case either. Those two issues may be partially responsible from the, in my opinion, more important point being missed--

We are living in a racist world, and we don't even know when we are being racist. Our schools have an enormous responsibility, now more than ever, to educate students on principles of democracy, social justice,  and global citizenship. SATs are divisive, inherently biased tests which favor wealthy, white students and help to maintain a racial and socio-economic divide. We don't teach about this; we are minimally aware of it as educators. 

I'm not in charge of next steps for this situation, but I will be suggesting some. Maybe this series of events can be the start of bridge building. Maybe we should start some book clubs between the two schools which are less than 15 miles apart. Maybe we should have day exchange programs and reflections about those experiences. Maybe we should have much more curriculum that focuses on democracy and the threats to it in today's world--threats that exist right in front of us as we cheer for our children. Maybe the two schools could launch a program between the two of them that could serve as a model for teaching young people about social justice and global citizenship. Maybe we should do more than just call these fans into the principal's office and demand a forced apology, and maybe we need more than just different policies about what behaviors can get students evicted from a game. 

My daughter's experience as a basketball player was impacted by these (hopefully) ignorant, but racially charged chants. The problem grows, though, as these teenagers take these attitudes (or ignorance) into the world as adults, and we all suffer. I value the #SOL community for the reflection, intelligence, insight, and wisdom that so many of you show, and I am welcoming suggestions and thoughts to move ahead with some learning experiences for everyone. 

With great respect to this community,


  1. Oh my goodness. This took me straight back to high school in the mid 1980s, when my white, suburban school was known to chant "That's alright, that's okay, you'll be working for us someday," when we were losing to "cross-town" schools. When we proclaimed that "smart" schools had good soccer teams while "dumb" schools had good football teams. (Guess which ours had?) When terms like "scuzz-ball" and "scummy" were tossed around casually to describe kids of a lower socio-economic level. I wish I could claim to not have been part of that, but only the first one struck me as offensive at the time. My point, if I have any, being that high school is often about "us" and "them," and limited life experience leads to rampant snobbery and false superiority. I'd see this as a teachable moment rather than a permanent indictment of the character of those who were participating. Then again, there are plenty of adults in our society who hold those kinds of beliefs, so it is URGENT that the teaching does happen.

    I don't have suggestions at the moment--this will take awhile to digest, even from this distance. Thank you for being so reflective and looking towards solutions instead of just bemoaning the problem. Your district is lucky to have you there.

  2. Wow, what a sad way for Julia's team to end their season. I think all of your ideas are great, and would be meaningful first steps. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, these kids don't have great role models on the national stage. Maybe the programs should include parents.

    1. Yes, very sad. And no, they don't have good role models. This is why I think it's so important, so imperative, to do something.

  3. What a sad story this is indeed and the implications are rippling outward I am sure. Your suggestions sound sound as the issue most likely stems from deeper problems beyond the students. Th one idea that resonated with me was the book study. You'll probably be preaching to the proverbial choir, but you have to start some where. Keep us in the loop.

  4. Sad all around, sad for the players, sad for those who watched and saw. Lots of interactions may help the bridge building. How about starting with the teams and the cheerleaders and/or pep squad and cheer band (if there is one). Perhaps with their love of the sport, they could begin good connections, and start the rest of the year and next year positive. Just a thought. I like that there might be interactions. Sorry for this, Melanie, and for your daughter.

  5. So sad. I love your book club idea, or anything to help the kids get to know each other. This reminds me of when I was in college, and we (the Ohio State Marching Band) went to an away game at Northwestern. OSU was winning by a lot, and the Northwestern fans started chanting "State School, State School" at the OSU team / band / fans. Like really? You think you're better than us because you're a private school? Come on!

  6. I don' thing I have any suggestions, but I agree that this is such a sad story and a sad end to what should have been a triumphant (if still heartbreaking) moment for your daughter and her team. I think your suggestions are great! Unfortunately I think race is so complicated, and so many of our kids think they live in a "post-racial" world, that it's really hard to address a problem like that. Good luck and keep us posted!

  7. We talk about race relations in our sixth grade classroom all the time. Recently, my kids unpacked a cleaned up version of Macklemore's White Privilege II in class and dug deep. We've talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, and the school to prison pipeline. I think conversations like this need to happen in all classrooms as much as possible. I live and teach in very affluent towns, this is where the conversations most need to take place. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about this so eloquently in his latest book, and I believe that he is right. The problem lies in a white society that chooses not to change, not to progress in meaningful ways, so that problems and prejudice are perpetuated. Okay, getting off my soap box for now. It seems to me that it's time for some real conversation in Farmington.

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  9. So, so unfortunate on all levels. Honestly, I feel like this type of behavior stems back to even the young athletic programs today! What has happened to good, clean competition?

  10. >Maybe we should have day exchange programs and reflections about those experiences. <

    This is a brilliant idea, absolutely so! This would be a great suggestion to pass along to your administration, just to see if they'd be interested. I think anything to work on helping students walk a mile in someone else's shoes will only help.

    I'm sorry that your daughter's season ended on a note like this, when the game itself sounded like a blast to watch! Thank you for sharing this slice with us all and making us think!

  11. Well, wow. I agree completely that a principal's office visit and a forced apology is not enough. It is challenging to give advice from afar. I will say that I think it is very important that when you have that feeling that something needs to be done, act on it. trust your instincts and get conversations started. You won't be able to let things go. And they shouldn't be left. This is an opportunity for learning and change.

  12. I'm so sorry about this. Team sports can get so ugly. I don't have any solutions, but I do believe conversations need to happen. Real ones without blaming, but with some logical solutions. Keep us informed.