Glendale Mountain Ridge player Saikou Gueye stood near the home team’s stands at Mesa Red Mountain High School, waiting to inbound the ball as the first quarter was winding to a close Friday night.
His team held a healthy 20-8 lead on the road.
Over the sound of Red Mountain fans chanting “Mountain fight,” a screeching noise pierced the air. Gueye kept his focus on the court as cackles of “Hoo-hoo-ah-ah,” mimicking the sound of a monkey, came from the throats of some in the Red Mountain crowd standing in the bleachers.
Some of the students began pounding fists against chests and scratching their armpits.
Gueye was the only black player on the floor at the time.
Gueye, who scored 17 points in the game, did not respond.
“I noticed it but I had no choice but to ignore it,” Gueye, 17, told The Arizona Republic when contacted after the game.
“It kills me that racism still exists, but I’ve been dealing with stuff like this my whole life. I know the kid wanted me to react, but I wasn’t going to give him what he wanted.”
School officials, coaches respond to incident
A video shot by an azcentral.com photographer shows several students joining in. Red Mountain Principal Jared Ryan walked over and escorted one of the students out of the stands, making him leave the premises.
Mountain Ridge head coach Eli Lopez said he didn’t see the incident but was made aware of it after the game. He said after the game that he has spoken to Gueye about such situations.
As one of the team’s best players, Lopez told him, opposing crowds are going to be “on him,” but focusing on the game and ignoring the crowd is the best approach.
“I’ve talked to Saikou before. The better you get as a player, the more adversity you’re going to have to overcome. It’s nothing new to the game, unfortunately,” Lopez said.
“I mean, obviously it was totally inappropriate,” Lopez said. “But you hope you don’t think of the whole school like that, because it’s just a couple kids being not very smart.”
Lopez said there were no issues with the Red Mountain team.
“Their coach, Todd Fazio, and their players were respectful and great to us before and after the game,” he said.
Ryan responded later via email to a request for comment on the incident. “Sadly, a spectator within our student section was heard making derogatory statements toward a member of the opposing team. … This particular situation severely crossed the line of appropriateness. This was not done in the spirit of competition and certainly does not align to the core values of Red Mountain High School.”
Ryan said he will review the film of the incident and involved students could face additional punishment.
Mesa Unified School District Communications Director Helen Hollands in an email said Ryan responded “swiftly to the inappropriate behavior.”
“Red Mountain High School prides itself on adhering to the Red Mountain Way, a behavior code that focuses on courage, respect and influence,” Hollands said. “The actions of one student do not define Red Mountain. The principal, Jared Ryan, will be investigating the incident further and will take any additional disciplinary actions warranted by the findings.”
Mountain Ridge went on to win the game 61-47, and the Mountain Lions improved their record to 15-12 on the season.
“Saikou, I think, handled it well,” Lopez said. “And like I said, he’s been preparing for great things and a great future, so I was proud of the way he handled it and kept his composure and just played the game.”