The executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school athletic competitions in the state, has instructed administrators at Jefferson and Dover high schools to address reports of racial slurs — along with a “build the wall” chant — allegedly shouted by Jefferson fans at Dover athletes during a varsity boys basketball game on Friday.
The video above, published by NJ.com, shows students clearly chanting “ashy knees” as an African-American Dover player shoots free throws.
According to NJ.com, the theme of the night was American pride, and many students wore patriotic outfits and waved the American flag.
One Dover parent, however, didn’t see event as being prideful so much as disparaging.
“Their intent was disrespect,” the parent told NJ.com. “Not to promote the country as a whole.”
“The schools have been instructed to meet and come forward with appropriate action plans to satisfy both the letter and spirit of the NJSIAA sportsmanship policy,” Steven Timko said in a statement released to the media on Wednesday afternoon. “If they are unable to fulfill that obligation, the matter will go to the controversies committee of their own conference, the New Jersey Athletic Conference. If necessary, NJSIAA will convene its controversies committee, which will intercede as necessary.”
Timko’s directions follow a statement by Dover School District Superintendent Bob Becker on Tuesday saying Dover High School athletic director Sean Bullock had filed a formal complaint with the NJSIAA after Jefferson students attending the game at their school were alleged to have directed “discriminatory and hateful” phrases at Dover athletes during the game. Jefferson beat Dover, 69-41, in the Morris County Tournament preliminary-round game.
Becker also noted that his student population is 80 percent Latino or African-American.
“By means of example, when one of our African-American students attempted to make foul shots, a small group of the home team fans chanted ‘Ashy knees,’ ” he wrote in his statement. “When the Dover students were warming up, chants of ‘Build the wall’ resounded from another small, yet vocal group of fans. A variety of racial slurs were also expressed during the game.”
Jefferson School District Superintendent Patrick Tierney issued a public apology on the district website on Tuesday, writing “Unfortunately, the actions of a few have now tarnished the reputation of an outstanding student body, school, and community and for that, I am very sorry.”
“I personally feel a sense of anger and frustration that our students were subjected to speech which was discriminatory and hateful in nature,” Becker wrote in his statement posted on the Dover district website. “This cannot be tolerated and will not stand.”
Becker, though, agreed with Tierney that the entire Jefferson student body should not be painted “with a broad brush” for the actions of a few.
Wednesday, Tierney said he had seen the statement from the NJSIAA and was appreciative it was allowing “the process to work itself out” between the schools, and that his focus on the students.
“We are still in the midst of our investigation and obviously if anything comes out of it, we will take the appropriate measures,” Tierney said. “I think it was a very unfortunate situation, but that people are allowing their emotions to get the better of them, at least from what I have seen posted on social media and through the news. I am extremely concerned for the children on both sides, in Dover and Jefferson, and I would be very disheartened by people utilizing those kids either as scapegoats or for their own political gain.”
Timko stressed the kind of slurs heard in the Jefferson gym are not acceptable.
“There is no place in interscholastic sports for any individual associated with a member school, be they a spectator, student-athlete, or staff member, who engages in harassing verbal or physical conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or religion,” Timko stated. “NJSIAA’s policies — which were among the first in the nation of their type — clearly outline expectations and punishments. They also detail the association’s ongoing training programs and communication protocols that provide a framework for addressing such issues.”
Timko also stated that the NJSIAA had received reports on the matter from both schools, and the nonprofit association has shared those reports with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights in the Attorney General¹s Office.
He also admonished adults to appreciate the difference between the entertainment aspects of professional and college sports and those occurring in the scholastic level.
“Frankly, given the fan culture at the professional and even college level, it’s a constant battle to reinforce that high school athletics, while entertaining, are not entertainment,” Timko wrote. “Rather, they’re an extension of the classroom. Adults — administrators, coaches, officials, teachers, parents, and journalists — need to be mindful of the distinctions between the different levels of sport.”
“I think it’s indicative of the country; it’s very easy for people to sit behind the keyboard and act as judge and jury when all the facts are not known,” Tierney said, referring to social-media commentators who have turned the controversy into a political debate. “I have grave concerns for the Dover children, that they are being used by people for their own political purposes, and then my kids, not that I am excusing the behavior, the potential is there for them to be ostracized and made out as scapegoats. We need to see through that.”
Tierney added that he has engaged Morris County Office of Education Interim Executive Superintendent Roger Jinks as an intermediary because the matter involves two county schools.
USA TODAY High School Sports contributed to this report