The Arlington and Fairfax county school systems in Virginia are taking action, and a petition drive has been started, after accusations of racist language and abuse during and after a high school football game earlier this month.
Players on the Wakefield High School team in Arlington said they were called names including the n-word and “boy” during a game at Marshall High School, in Fairfax County, on March 5, that ended with a fight, Wakefield principal Dr. Christian Willmore said in a letter to the community.
Willmore said he and the school’s staff spoke with students and families, as well as officials from Marshall, Fairfax County Public Schools and the Virginia High School League.
Arlington County Schools Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran said in a statement, “The blatant acts of racism and disrespect towards the Wakefield players are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” He supports the Wakefield players and “continues to advocate for change.”
The Fairfax County school system said in a statement, “FCPS does not accept acts of intolerance. We have expectations of behavior in our students and staff; allegations such as these are taken seriously. … We are working with all families involved in this matter, school leadership, FCPS’ regional office, FCPS’ Chief Equity Officer, and the coaches from both teams to develop a plan for restorative justice.”
Marshall Substitute Principal Augie Frattali said in a letter to the community, “Please know that we have taken this situation very seriously … We have done an intensive investigation into this situation and appropriate actions were taken against individuals by the Virginia High School League from both schools. I also worked collaboratively with [Willmore] to ensure that there will be an opportunity for the students to join together to discuss their actions and develop a plan moving forward.”
Willmore said he and the rest of the school’s administrators were outraged by the reported abuse “and that the officials did nothing to intervene despite our urging and even after our coaches signaled them to the behavior multiple times during the contest, allowing the situation to escalate. … In this case, the adults who were responsible failed them.”
He said he and the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion officer met with the team last week, and that he told the players, “I was extremely proud of the restraint they had shown for two and a half hours and that they handled it exactly as they should have: They reported it to the referees and then [to] their coaches.”
The principal added that he told VHSL officials that this wasn’t the first time Wakefield athletes had been subjected to such abuse. Willmore said he had instructed the school’s coaches to take their teams off the field if something similar were to happen. “Our student-athletes will not be put into a position like this again.”
Willmore said in the letter that three Wakefield players had been issued three-game suspensions by the league for their roles in the fighting, but that they had been reduced to one game. He emphasized that this was an athletic suspension and that the players were not being disciplined by the school.
On Friday, Julius Spain, the president of the Arlington Branch NAACP, said in a statement that the reported conduct was “atrocious.” He directed people’s attention to the #PlayFairNow petition campaign, which he said was not connected with the NAACP, but called for apologies from Marshall High and the VHSL; a reversal of the Wakefield players’ suspensions, and mandatory diversity and inclusion training for local high school athletes, coaches and officials.
Spain also released the letter Willmore, Duran, Supervisor Deborah DeFranco and Schol Board Chair Monique O’Grady wrote to Dr. Billy Haun of the VHSL, detailing some of the incidents of racism against Wakefield players in recent years, including fans of another school chanting that ICE was coming to deport the Wakefield soccer team.