Members of the Pasadena Blair High School boys’ basketball team said La Cañada High School students directed racial slurs and insults at them during a Jan. 11 game at Hotchkin Gymnasium at LCHS.
La Cañada Principal Ian McFeat said he investigated the allegations but could not verify them. He also said he is prohibited by education code from saying whether any students were punished.
Still, McFeat apologized to the Blair team, which is predominantly black, in their locker room immediately after the game.
“I just said, ‘If that’s true, I want to apologize on behalf of the school. That’s not anything we condone and not anything we want to represent our school.’ I also said I’d be following up directly with our student section,” said McFeat, who also spoke with Blair’s principal about how to ensure acceptable behavior at athletic contests.
Last week, the Spartans student section in question was relocated for home games against Temple City and San Marino. The “Splash Zone,” which is where student-fans with a reputation for spirited, irreverent behavior congregate, now is situated directly across from the LCHS bench instead of in the northwestern corner of the gym. Those fans also were moved a few rows up from the floor, farther away from the action.
“We moved them over by our [adult] fans,” McFeat said Monday. “So the cheering is happening around our players. We always endeavor to improve upon everything, from our cheering to how we play on the court to how we administer to how we teach.”
“I think that [re-seating] will help a lot,” said one Blair player, a senior who said he was among those who heard several racially motivated taunts from LCHS students while he was on the floor. “[That way] their parents can understand what’s actually happening. Because if they don’t hear it, if this continues, it could get more out of hand.”
The player said the harassment began in the second half, when the Vikings were shooting at the hoop near the LCHS student section. He said some students got as close to the sideline as they could without going onto the court while addressing members of his team.
“They were saying, ‘Those are nice shoes; you can’t afford those,’” the player said. “They used the ‘N-word’ multiple times and ‘cotton-pickers’ and said ‘you don’t know where your dad’s at.’
“It just felt so disrespectful. Who has the [guts] to say that?” the player asked. He said he also saw LCHS students take out their wallets, remove cash and wave it in the direction of the Blair contingent.
None of the Spartan players made offensive comments, the Blair player said.
“We take these issues very seriously and will respond thoroughly and appropriately to any investigative findings,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said in an email a few days after the game. “LCUSD is committed to ensuring that our schools — for our students and for visiting students and student athletes — are safe, welcoming and inclusive environments.”
LCHS Athletic Director Kristina Kalb also emailed a response: “We absolutely do not stand for any racist student-fan behavior at LCHS and are very committed to [Positive Coaching Alliance] and Victory with Honor,” which is the CIF’s sportsmanship initiative.
McFeat said neither he nor other administrators in attendance were aware of the alleged slurs until they were alerted after the game by a member of the Blair coaching staff. If LCHS administrators had witnessed any of the alleged statements, they would have acted immediately, McFeat said.
“That’s the type of thing we’ll stop the game over,” said McFeat, who added that he believes the referees also would have approached administrators if they’d heard what was allegedly said. “I’ve had refs tell me, ‘I have a fan who’s yelling at me, can you do something?’ Typically, that’s what happens, and the refs did not stop anything.”
Blair senior Emma Thayer, who attended the game to support her school’s team, said she witnessed fans inching close to the sideline and “being very aggressive” toward Blair players. But, she said, she wasn’t close enough to know what was being said until Vikings players told her after the game, which the Spartans won, 61-53.
“[Blair players] were upset,” she said in a phone conversation this week. “But they weren’t surprised that it had happened, and that’s what really personally bugged me. This should be a surprise; it should not be a normality to shout racial slurs.”
In an emailed statement, Blair Principal David Ibarra was pleased with his players’ response.
“I would like to commend the Blair High School team members for their dignified response to La Cañada fans’ behavior,” Ibarra said. “Blair Vikings did not allow fans’ inappropriate behavior to compromise their character or focus on the game.”
He also said he appreciated the response from LCHS.
“We appreciate the quick response and apology by the La Cañada High School coach on behalf of his team’s fans,” Ibarra said. “I have been in contact with the La Cañada High School principal to address this issue and ways to ensure that high standards of behavior are met at future athletic events.”
Thayer said Blair fans were asked to exit through a different door than LCHS supporters in what she understood to be an attempt to avoid a fight. McFeat said that wasn’t his call, but the visiting team’s student-fans also were steered toward a side exit near their team’s bench in the game last week against San Marino, when LCHS fans left through the main doorway.
“When it gets to the point where it’s racial comments or socioeconomic comments, it’s beyond what is acceptable in terms of a rivalry,” said Mike Dakan, the father of a Blair player and an English teacher at that school. “So the question is, how do you educate kids? You certainly have opportunities to have one-on-ones and group discussions about those issues, but I don’t know how a school like La Cañada can handle that. To me, it’s not the principal’s fault, and not the coach’s or the players, it’s on those kids.”
Ibarra said additional school and district staff will be present when the Spartans play at Blair next Wednesday, Feb. 1.
“We look forward to hosting La Cañada High School at the next game and to a mutual demonstration of respectful behavior that honors all student-athletes,” Ibarra said.
Oscar Areliz contributed to this report.