For the second time in a month, Franklin (Milwaukee) High School administrators are investigating a racially charged incident, this one involving the alleged taunting of black players on a visiting basketball team from Racine.
Stephon Chapman, a small forward for the Horlick High School Rebels, said fans in the Franklin student section made monkey noises when he lined up to take his free throw shots during the first half of the game Thursday night.
After the game, he said, a white male adult shouted a racial slur at players, most of them African-American, as they boarded their bus.
“I was really shocked. I was, like, seriously?” Chapman said Saturday, recounting his reaction to the taunts — by several students, he said — coming from the bleachers.
“It felt so disrespectful,” he said, noting that opposing players were not part the problem. “But our coach was really good. He just kept saying we don’t stoop to that level.”
Franklin officials issued a statement saying a lone student was ejected from the gymnasium after a spectator complained and that the incident was under investigation.
It said the district “does not tolerate discriminatory or harassing conduct by students,” and “any student who is found to have engaged in this conduct is subject to disciplinary action.”
“We are doing all we can to make sure that the school environment is a positive place for all,” Superintendent Judy Mueller said in an email. She said she does not believe the incidents represent Franklin’s student body.
“Our district is full of students who are great representatives of our community and a staff who cares deeply about students and who provides them with support on a daily basis,” she said.
A spokesman for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association said it was aware of the incident and that the schools were working together to address it.
A Horlick spokeswoman said Saturday that she did not know whether the school would file a complaint with the WIAA.
Horlick Activities Director Joe Wendt had issued a statement Friday saying he’d been in contact with Franklin officials and that he was “extremely proud of the way our athletes, coaches and students carried themselves last evening.”
“They showed great integrity and class in the way they responded to a difficult situation,” Wendt said.
Franklin won the game, 85-75.
The incident came four weeks after a Franklin High School student was suspended for posting a placard that said “white” over a drinking fountain at the school, and another that said “colored” over the empty space next to it — an allusion to segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era.
That incident raised a concern among civil rights advocates, who called on the predominantly white suburban district to increase awareness around issues of diversity and inclusion and to join other schools that recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday.
“The incident demonstrates the need for the school and the district to take immediate and ongoing action to make the school more inclusive and respectful of different cultures,” three organizations — the NAACP Milwaukee Branch, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation — said in the statement at the time.
Franklin High School has just 31 African-American students, or 2% of the student body, compared with 22% at Horlick, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
Students and parents have complained of racial incidents at a number of schools in Wisconsin and across the country in recent years. Parents interviewed for a 2016 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on the racial bullying in rural schools in southeastern Wisconsin reported seeing several incidents. Also in 2016, the Elkhorn Area School District disciplined several students for taunting black and Latina girls with calls of “Trump” and “Trump, build that wall” during a soccer match against Beloit Memorial High School.
Horlick Coach Jason Treutelaar said he was troubled by the incident but proud of his team, which he called “a close-knit group of ball players who always have each others’ backs.”
“I can only imagine how hard that was,” said Treutelaar, who is white.
“But they kept it together. Everybody kept their composure and played the game like it needed to be played. I hope everyone learns from it and will grow from it.”