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Racial slurs yelled at Penn Hills soccer players during game at Connellsville, officials say

Dillon Carr
| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, 5:15 p.m.
Connellsville Area High School
Celeste Van Kirk | Trib Total Media
Connellsville Area High School

Penn Hills School District has canceled all sports games against Connellsville Area School District amid reports that Connellsville students, fans and players slung racial slurs at Penn Hills players during a varsity boys soccer game.

Nancy Hines, Penn Hills superintendent, said the school will not travel to Connellsville or host the school until the Sept. 6 incident is investigated and resolved by the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

“It was so disturbing that it warranted our position and immediate involvement of WPIAL,” Hines said.

Connellsville Superintendent Joseph Bradley said his district is taking the allegations seriously and will not condone unsportsmanlike conduct from spectators or athletes.

“Let alone ones of the disgusting nature and or gravity of this type,” Bradley wrote in a statement. “At this point, CASD is fully cooperating with Penn Hills School District and the WPIAL as we seek to fully investigate, apply appropriate consequences or programmatic changes, and ultimately provide a teachable moment to all involved.”

WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said the organization has requested a written report from Connellsville’s administration that details the allegations and the school’s planned response. The league’s board of directors meets Sept. 17 for a regular meeting.

“Our board will review that on Monday, and either issue an acceptance of the action taken or bring them in (for a hearing),” O’Malley said. “Any time that something is brought to our attention, we try to make sure that the schools are held responsible. If they’re not going to take the steps necessary to make sure that the people who play against them are treated with dignity and respect, then we’ll impose some sanctions on them. But that’s their responsibility.”

Hines, O’Malley and Bradley did not offer specifics about the incident, but Lisa Silverman, a parent of Penn Hills athletes and a Woodland Hills English teacher, criticized officials at the game for not “addressing the racial hatred directed at our players,” she wrote in a letter provided to the Tribune-Review.

The referees “continued to ignore what was happening in the stands and on the field,” the letter stated.

Silverman, who is white, did not offer specifics about the incident in her letter, but wrote that the Connellsville student section harassed a black player during a throw-in on the sideline.

“Frustrated, (the Penn Hills player) turned around and told them to ‘shut up,’ ” the letter stated.

The official, however, reprimanded the Penn Hills player instead of the student section, Silverman wrote.

“This ‘hands off’ officiating can lead to players taking things into their own hands,” the letter stated.

Silverman’s son, Jonah, said he and his teammates got very frustrated by the Connellsville players, students and fans when they hurled slurs at several black Penn Hills players. He said the outcome of the game would have been different if the officials got involved.

“They were supposed to absolutely destroy us,” Jonah Silverman, a sophomore, said. Connellsville topped Penn Hills 6-1. “So when we scored first, I think they were surprised.”

He said it started with Connellsville players calling one of the black Penn Hills players slurs shortly after the first goal was scored 15 minutes into the game, but he claimed that racial slurs were directed at all of the team’s black players during the game.

“It was affecting our players,” he said.

Jonah Silverman, who is white, said his teammates made the three white officials aware of the name-calling multiple times throughout the game, to no avail. Jonah Silverman recalls one of the officials responding to a complaint with “I’ll watch for it.”

“They did warn us about our language,” he said. “Like when players were using profanity … so it’s not like (the officials) couldn’t hear them.”

Jonah Silverman said he was surprised the referees did nothing about the racially charged remarks.

“Usually, if we say something to the refs, they at least say something to everyone about it and the players will stop,” he said.

But it didn’t stop until the Penn Hills team boarded the bus to go home, according to Jonah Silverman. He said a Connellsville player directed a racial slur at a Penn Hills player as the team made its way to the bus.

“We felt helpless,” the 15-year-old said, adding that taunting is normal during competition. “But I don’t remember it being this bad.”

In her letter, Silverman referenced two WPIAL policies that allow officials to intervene when a “student athlete or spectator uses race, gender, ethnicity, religion or disability to bait, intimidate or denigrate.”

“Unless racism is one of the qualities of ‘sportsmanship, citizenship and lifelong values’ (WPIAL) promotes, they must eliminate it wherever and whenever they see it,” Silverman wrote.

In an interview, Lisa Silverman said the officials at the Sept. 6 game should receive some sort of discipline.

“It seems like refs are just looking at officiating the game, they’re not looking at the sportsmanship, which is a huge part of the game,” she said, adding that WPIAL should do a better job at training its official to watch out for racially charged language and actions exchanged between players.

Ron Coursey, athletic director at Woodland Hills School District, said similar incidents at high school sporting events are getting out of hand.

“The fact that my kids had to endure that and the fact that now Penn Hills kids had to endure the very same treatment to me just speaks to a trend,” Coursey said.

He referenced an incident Aug. 31 where young students standing by Bethel Park stadium’s concession stand made racially charged comments and actions directed at the Woodland Hills High School marching band.

Coursey, who is black and in his second year at Woodland Hills, said he is pleased with Bethel Park’s response and emphasized its administration handled the situation quickly and professionally. Bethel Park school officials apologized and said they would investigate the matter.

“It’s just ridiculous that in 2018 we can’t send minority athletes to games without receiving the threat of receiving backlash about the color of their skin,” he said.

Coursey said he has heard of similar racial incidents happening in certain areas. He did not name other schools, but he said those areas “are lacking in diversity and overwhelmingly Caucasian.”

Coursey said although some blame can be placed on officials who don’t intervene when racially charged comments are exchanged, schools must do better jobs at placing security and administration within crowds at games to monitor behavior.

“When they hear these things … it’s on them to remove fans,” Coursey said.

Tribune-Review staff writer Chris Harlan contributed. Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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