School district apologizes after basketball game incident

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – High school basketball fans ignited a heated exchange on social media after a video posted on Facebook showed a group of Warrensburg students turning their backs to an opposing team while one student held a Trump/Pence campaign sign.
The game took place Monday against the Center Yellowjackets. The Center school district is 64 percent black, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The local students, dressed in farmer attire during a farmer/barnyard theme night, turned their backs to the court as the names of Center’s team members were announced and one of the students held the campaign sign.
A Facebook post and video from Toniaa Lakylia Nunn, a 2015 Center graduate who attended the game, generated nearly 6,000 shares and 3,000 comments.
“(I) posted it because I found them turning their backs on their opponent was rude and holding a Trump sign up made it look racist!” Nunn said in a post. “They knew what type of message they were sending through the whole thing. (Whether) they deny it or not.”
Scott Patrick, Warrensburg R-VI superintendent, said staff members were not aware of the Trump/Pence sign being brought into the facility during the game, but they removed the sign as soon as they became aware.
He said the students acted inappropriately and were insensitive toward the visiting team.
“We’re going to continue to reinforce with our students, like we have in the past, as far as what the appropriate expectation is and always trying to display good sportsmanship,” Patrick said.
Patrick said it’s important to look at what students are doing, such as turning their backs when opposing team members are announced, and discourage that behavior as bad sportsmanship.
He said he spoke with WHS Principal Simone Dillingham, and the students involved in the incident were being spoken to. However, nobody had been punished as of Wednesday.
“There is an element of First Amendment rights and freedom of speech, but there’s a policy and procedures that we have to follow when it comes to causing any significant disruption in the educational process, which, of course, extends beyond in-school (activities),” Patrick said. “The administration believes that whenever there’s significant disruption that causes the school to be disrupted in any way that we have the ability to discipline in those situations.”
Kenny Seifert, assistant activities director for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said school districts evaluate their own sportsmanship expectations and determine whether certain behavior is appropriate or not.
Seifert said every school district has their own tolerance as far as sportsmanlike behavior goes.
“What the administration allows is what the kids are going to do,” he said. “As far as (MSHSAA) enforcing something, it really is a local school district and local school administration tolerance level in regards to what they expect out of their kids’ behavior.”
A teacher from the Warrensburg school district, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her job, said the teams have played against each other before and the back turning is not something new.
“They weren’t doing anything they haven’t done at a game in the last 20 years,” the teacher said.
However, the teacher said she was confused by the Trump/Pence sign and what motivation the students had or what statement they were trying to make.
Patrick sent out a districtwide email Tuesday apologizing for the incident.
“The Warrensburg R-VI School District does not condone these actions and apologizes to anyone who was offended by the actions of these students,” Patrick wrote. “We will do everything in our power to rectify this situation and keep events like this from happening in the future.”
Alli Rhone, a WHS senior, said the farm night theme is the same every year they play Center.
“(Students) turned their backs, but we do that for every game. And we’ve always done that for every game,” she said.
She said a Trump/Pence sign was held up and passed around by fans in the student section.
“I understand where it was disrespectful, I mean, I think they shouldn’t (have) done it,” Rhone said. “But the administration did take it away.”
Rhone said near the end of the game the Warrensburg student section was chanting “Don’t choke,” which some people mistook for a chant of “Trump.” She said there were no racial slurs coming from the student section.
“I just think it’s sad that it divided everyone so much by having our president’s sign,” Rhone said. “Like, our president’s supposed to bring our country together, and one sign of him splits everyone up.”
Patrick said the presence of the sign was the problem.
“That kind of put it over the edge,” he said.
The WHS girls basketball team played Center at home Tuesday night. This time, the fans remained facing forward as the team was introduced.
Patrick said as far as he knows the students were not told to remain facing forward.
“Whether they just, for whatever reason, decided they weren’t going to do it (or) because of the incident the night before, I honestly (don’t know) why,” he said.