All eyes were on the Lakota West-Mason girls basketball game Saturday with the Greater Miami Conference title on the line between two state-ranked teams.
Before that game, however, Mason coach Rob Matula’s eyes focused on the example Loveland and Walnut Hills girls basketball teams set when they locked arms/hands during the National Anthem Feb. 7. Their point was to show unity as competitors after recent news of racist chants coming from a local student section Feb. 2.
Loveland coach Darnell Parker, a black man who coaches mostly white girls, and Walnut Hills coach Adam Lazar, a white coach to mostly black players, brainstormed to find a way to show that “our programs, our kids and our communities have had enough,” Parker said.
Taking their lead, Matula contacted Lakota West coach Andy Fishman about supporting their Eastern Cincinnati Conference sister teams and continuing the movement of unity and respect.
Alternating players from each team, the girls met before the game to organize an M/W formation on the court, making the W for the West fans’ view and M for the Mason fans.
“Andy and I are lucky enough to coach programs that are built on competition and respect for each other and the sport,” Matula said. “The M/W thing just kind of popped into my head and I ran it by Andy, and he thought it would be a great idea. Before the game, our teams met and the girls were wonderful about taking the lead… Our hope is that we empower our teams so that they can be strong leaders in our society and to send a positive message to as many people as we can.”
Senior guard Jada Mason of Lakota West said they talked before the game about things happening at surrounding schools that weren’t sending positive messages. Making the M/W was a unique chance to show they are respectful first, she said.
“It showed that even though during the game we fight against each other as hard as we can, once the game is over, we are respectful and understand that we are both working toward a common goal,” she said. “I think it also gave us the opportunity to set an example for our community by saying that we are good people first.”
Fishman added, “With it being the last regular season game, we had the opportunity considering the diversity in our districts and teams to celebrate our ability over the years to battle fiercely and stay friendly and respectful. The W-M inversion provided a unique symbolic opportunity: We are all equals as good people first (showing) respect for all, although we are different schools.”
The message read before the anthem: “Depending on where you are sitting/standing, you either see a W for West or an M for Mason. Our respective programs don’t want you to see either. We want you to see two equal programs that respect each other and are unified in our desire to represent our communities. With all that is going on in our society today, we want to be unified on the common ground of, respect for all, respect for the game. Thank you for attending today’s game. Please stand for our national anthem and if you feel inclined, please hold hands, interlock arms, or put your hand on someone’s shoulder as a sign of unification and respect.”
Coming together: Walnut Hills boys took part in a similar show of solidarity Jan. 13 with Kings High School, not long after images surfaced of racially offensive jerseys in a Kings area recreation league, not affiliated with the school.
“It was a great showing of unity between our two schools and students,” Kings athletic director Tyler Miller said. “With all of the negative stories surrounding the situation that week, we felt it was needed to show strength between our member schools and to not let hate win. It was very powerful to see our students and Walnut Hills’ students coming together in that moment.”
He said they currently are restructuring the Kings student section to wrap it into their Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (STAAC).
“We will be putting guidelines and principles in place to ensure that we are respectful of our opponents at sporting events and that we display sportsmanship at all times. Our STAAC group is a group of student-athletes who strive to be a positive influence in our school district through community service and leading by example,” he said.
They have led initiatives such as Toys for Tots drives, Winter Coat Drives, Appreciation Nights at athletic events, sing holiday carols to a local retirement community, among others.
“With the recent events that have taken place within our communities, we are using our platform and brand to say enough is enough,” owner Derek Block said. “This is a MADEin moment and movement that the community of Cincinnati can lead the national stage to mesh together to spread a message of positivity and togetherness and ‘Let Love Win.’ All profits from Let Love Win will go back to our communities.”
Moeller soccer coach Mike Welker said he knows the power and positive impact a message like #LetLoveWin can play in the community.
“It’s a visual reminder of a simple yet powerful statement, that can go beyond social media and beyond our local high school sports network,” he said. “I hope that we can continue to teach our young athletes and fans to be respectful, loving and supportive with our actions and words.”
Other moments of kindness and solidarity: On Friday night, Turpin boys basketball played ECC rival Kings. Turpin and Anderson have students sing the National Anthem, and it was Katherine Cassedy’s turn on this night.
Cassedy, a Turpin sophomore with Down Syndrome, suffered from a brief bout of stage fright and struggled to get started. In a poignant moment, Turpin junior cheerleader Jordyn Polet and Kings junior cheerleader Brooke Howard came to Cassedy’s side and, after a few attempts, sang the song with her at half court.
Across town, the gymnasts at Oak Hills and Lakota West/East stood together to make their own statement against sexual abuse. They wore teal ribbons over the weekend to acknowledge survivors of sexual abuse.