The student representatives of 13 schools in the Archdiocesan Athletic Association (AAA) got the message. There's plenty of reasons to play high school sports and, with apologies to Vince Lombardi, winning isn't the only thing — it ranks far down the list. And there's no excuse for racist remarks or gestures, on or off the field, or insults from fans.
About six to 10 students from each school were selected to attend the meeting Aug. 30 at St. Dominic High School in O'Fallon. They listened to presentations by Lou Mazzocco, assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association on "Why We Play;" Aaron Layton, director of diversity at Westminster Christian Academy in Town and Country on racial stereotyping, awareness and sensitivity; and Brad Dempsey, athletic director at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City on fan behavior.
Mazzocco pointed to surveys showing that good teammates mimic good coaches who are inspirational and positive. They participate to have fun, be with friends and stay healthy. He was right on the mark also in stating that the purpose of high school sports is the development of student athletes' education, social skills and physical abilities. They learn perseverance, problem-solving, accountability and teamwork.
Everyone wants to win, but that's not possible. The state has 600 basketball programs for boys and girls, and only 10 of them are state champions.
Layton is author of the book, "Dear White Christian: What Every White Christian Needs to Know About How Black Christians See, Think and Experience Racism in America," which he described as a nonthreatening look at the issue of race. He noted that the nation still is wrestling with the topic, and conversations are difficult but necessary.
He called racism in sports an "enemy of the game." Yet talking civilly about race is essential. "When you talk about it, that's what brings you closer," Layton said.
He encouraged students, for example, to ask African-American teammates how they are doing when an incident occurs such as the confrontation and violence in Charlottesville, Va., at a white supremacist demonstration. The issue of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to draw attention to racial justice is another that benefits from respectful discussion, Layton said.
Layton made several points clear. Calling teams with a majority of African-Americans "a ghetto team" or "thugs" are off limits as are any racial slurs. Anyone who witnesses a racial slur being used should confront that person and/or talk to the coach about it. Teammates should condemn it openly and check in on the victim of the slur.
Dempsey said improper behavior by student cheering sections causes problems for a school community and conference. He cited two schools where the student sections get together with cheerleaders before games and script cheers, taking care that they're appropriate.
Lucy Wheeland, a junior at Rosati-Kain High School who plays soccer and tennis, said she took to heart the advice to ask teammates how they are handling a racial situation. Even if they don't want to talk about it, "at least they know you care," she said.
Megan Wolf, a junior at Notre Dame High School who plays softball and lacrosse, said "you have to be conscious of what you say because that can affect people."
Maria Gerth, a sophomore at Bishop DuBourg High School,who plays three sports, summed it up in three words: "Be more caring."
Kudos to the conference for holding the meeting.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. RELATED ARTICLE(S):FAITHFUL FAN | Athletes' community spirit often begins at the high school level