PROSPECT -- Boys basketball players and their coach, from Long River Middle School, in Prospect, have been accused of using racial slurs and encouraging overtly physical behavior in a game last Thursday afternoon against a middle school from neighboring Naugatuck.
"My son said, when he was going to the locker room, the parents were yelling it -- the N-word, from the bleachers," said Byron Williams, whose son Vanni, plays for Naugatuck's City Hill Middle School.
"I actually saw a friend in the bleachers about to get in a fight with somebody that had threatened him," said Byron Williams. "It was a white guy. My friend is black."
Byron Williams also posted some strong words on Facebook about the opposing players, who he claims "were openly using the N-word against our Naugatuck City Hill Cyclones."
He said his son told him he was called the N-word while playing. The son alleges the same thing happened against Long River back in December.
"He said I feel like I can’t trust white people," Byron Williams said, "And that’s where I did not want this to go."
Williams said most of his son's close friends are white.
As part of a letter to parents of students attending Long River, school Principal Derek Muharem wrote: "Please know that we are working with the Naugatuck Public Schools in a joint investigation to resolve this issue."
The Superintendent of Region 16 Schools, Michael Yamin, released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
An unacceptable incident was reported to have occurred at a Long River Middle School sporting event and a full investigation was conducted. We have not been able to substantiate that racial slurs have occurred. Our schools in Region 16 stand for respect and inclusion. We recognize that hateful remarks and acts at schools are dangerous, disturbing and disruptive. Everyone involved in our schools recognizes that disrespect and intimidation has no place in our community and it will not be tolerated. "
Long River Middle School’s Administration in collaboration with Region 16 District Office launched an investigation after accusations were made about players making racial slurs during the basketball game, and parents in the bleachers engaging in inappropriate verbal altercations. Region 16 interviewed staff, parents, players, coaches, met with City Hill Middle School staff and probed into posts on social media. We have completed our investigation. It is conclusive that as adults, we need to evaluate our conduct and reflect upon the influence our behavior, tone, and mannerisms have on our children and the community as well. We recognize that our players need to know that reports of these incidents will be taken seriously and fully investigated.
It is critical to remember that we are a teaching institution and capable of raising awareness and increasing understanding around the issues raised through this incident. We will take the following positive steps in using this as a learning experience to teach tolerance, respect, and inclusion, rather than to take punitive measures that will not offer any opportunity for learning or personal growth.
Our middle school team will be gathering with the team from City Hill Middle School from Naugatuck next Wednesday to engage in dialogue with counselors and administrators to support all students. Moving forward we will also look further into our present advisory program and guidance lessons that teach diversity and tolerance. We will seek to potentially capture content that is directly related to these types of incidents and real concerns that are raised through the inappropriate use of social media. I am confident that the school climate, culture, and community will take these incidents as teachable situations.
Sharon Locke, the Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools, issued a statement of her own Tuesday afternoon:
I think it is important to address the report of the racial slurs being used during the Middle School basketball game. This incident is an opportunity to help our young people develop into citizens who honor diversity and treat one another with dignity and respect. Our students need to know and trust that when they tell adults about hurtful incidents, we will take them seriously and investigate and take appropriate action.
In Naugatuck Public Schools, we have no tolerance for racial comments directed to anyone. Our primary concern is the well being of our students. Our Principal, Athletic Director and Coach have been meeting with and providing opportunities for our team to learn from and through this experience.
The Naugatuck and Prospect athletic directors, coaches and principals have also been collaborating to work on building a healthy relationship between our teams and our school communities.
Byron Williams says he doesn't "blame the kids because they’re getting this from somewhere else. They’re getting it from music. They’re getting it from their parents and they’re getting it from television."