Boys on a northwest Iowa high school basketball team were met with racist chants by students from a rival team on Friday night, administrators said.
The Storm Lake Tornadoes traveled to Spencer to play against the Tigers, but some in the Spencer student section chanted slogans against the Storm Lake players, such as “go back to where you came from,” superintendents from both school districts confirmed.
The Storm Lake school district has 2,400 students, and 84 percent of the students are non-Caucasian, said Storm Lake Superintendent Carl Turner. The Spencer school district has 1,900 students and is predominantly white.
The two schools have an intense rivalry in athletics.
“We’re going to watch out for the kids and try to give them the support they need,” Turner said. “Sometimes you have some individuals that don’t make very good choices, and at that point kids have got to learn — are you going to join (in) or learn from that?”
The chants, initially reported by the Storm Lake Times, also included such remarks as “lock your car doors” with some Spencer students shaking keys at the athletes. Last year, a Storm Lake student was accused of stealing a car, and the chant was a reference to that, superintendents from both districts confirmed.
Some Spencer students also wore patriotic attire and chanted “USA” at the Storm Lake athletes. The theme was not endorsed by Spencer administrators and about 10 percent of the students wore red, white and blue apparel, said Spencer Superintendent Terry Hemann.
There will no longer be a themed student section for Spencer other than for its school colors, Hemann said. Storm Lake will ask its future opponents to refrain from patriotic themes when playing games against them, Turner said.
Administrators from Spencer disciplined students the evening of the game and this week, Hemann said. He did not go into the details of the discipline, citing student privacy laws.
“This isn’t what Spencer or Spencer schools are about. It’s not what we believe in,” Hemann said. “We had some students that made some poor decisions and we’re using this as a learning opportunity and making better choices at the next opportunity.”
The chanting is nothing new to Storm Lake athletes, however, Turner said. The city of Storm Lake is unusual in Iowa with its minority-majority population, while Iowa’s population is 88 percent white.
The diversity of the town prompted journalist Katie Couric to come visit last year.
After a similar situation occurred during a football game last October between Spencer and Storm Lake, students from both schools did an exchange to better understand each other.
Hemann said the district will continue these type of initiatives and continue teaching students about awareness and treating others with respect.
“To take the time and to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is something kids are learning, and hopefully we’re teaching that,” Hemann said.
In Storm Lake, Turner said, he tries to speak with other groups and schools about diversity and how it makes the world a better place.
“We’re different than other communities in northwest Iowa and most communities in Iowa,” Turner said. “Because we’re different, people jump to conclusions about us, but all I ask people is give us a chance before you pass judgment.”
For more, visit the Des Moines Register