When the Almont High School football team takes the field seeking its first state championship Saturday, it will do so under a mushroom cloud of racial tension.
The undefeated Almont team will play Lansing Catholic for the Division 5 title at Ford Field, exactly a week after some of its fans were accused of spitting, throwing food and lobbing racial slurs at players from Detroit Denby, a predominantly black school from inner-city Detroit.
The incident was a ticking time bomb, experts say, a cultural collision that this time involved a city that’s nearly 80% black and a small town that’s nearly 100% white. And in the aftermath of that game, the racial tension has been heightened, with social media threats promising harm to Almont fans who attend the championship game in Detroit.
“(The team) will be able to maintain a high degree of focus,” Almont Community Schools Superintendent William Kalmar said Tuesday. “But if you’re a football player and your girlfriend is talking about being worried about driving down to Detroit because of what people are saying on Twitter, I don’t know if you can close all that off totally. I mean, they’re still human beings. Do you know what I mean?”
Both school districts have condemned the incident, which escalated when a Denby player shoved an Almont band member as the team was exiting the field. That’s when Almont fans began hurling racial slurs at Denby players, witnesses said. Some of the Denby players retaliated by throwing helmets, shoes and climbing a fence that separates fans from the playing field. One Denby player was punched by an Almont fan, according to Denby coach Deon Godfrey. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the incident. No arrests were made. Almont’s players were not involved in the incident.