Four days after the North Fort Myers High baseball team was the target of a racially-charged message for the second time in nine months, North principal Matt Mederios let his frustration be known.
Not only was the graffiti featuring a racial epithet and a swastika discovered Friday on the wall of the home dugout at Joey Cross Field an act he called “reprehensible and cowardly”, it challenged the culture of diversity and tolerance he said has been present at the school for a number of years.
“In today’s society there’s no place for this,” Mederios said. “It’s an attack on humanity.”
A Red Knights baseball player alerted baseball coach Tavaris Gary of the graffiti after seeing it around 7 a.m. Friday on his way to school. Administration was notified and the dugout wall was power washed and the message scrubbed by 9:30 a.m. A report was filed with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
The North baseball team is made up of a mix of white, black and Hispanic players. And Gary, a 2000 North graduate and former St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer, is the only black varsity head baseball coach in Lee County.
This is the second publicized instance in the last year where Gary was a victim of a racially-charged image.
In May of last year, a Snapchat video circulated around social media of former baseball coach David Bechtol, who is white, sledgehammering a to-be-demolished wall in his home with a caricature of Gary, featuring steroetypically enlarged lips, with a noose drawn around his neck.
Bechtol, who served as a Red Knights coach for four seasons, said at the time he was distraught over losing his coaching job, but his actions weren’t racially prejudiced.
Mederios said there is no evidence the cases are related.
“Coach Gary is an honorable man and he’s committed to his job,” Mederios said. “He doesn’t understand why these things are occurring. Why are these things being directed at him?”
Gary wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Meetings were held with players this week to discuss the most recent incident.
“They were very vocal in their support for coach Gary,” Mederios said. “We encouraged them to be a part of the solution. We want the whole school to take a stand against this type of racism, bullying and intimidation.”
Students were encouraged to wear red to tonight’s home game against Ida Baker at 7 p.m. in support of Gary. North Fort Myers is 3-6 this season.