A high school basketball coach in Kansas said his players and traveling fans faced “racial slurs, threats and disgusting taunts” from the other team’s students who were watching the game from the bleachers. Now Topeka High School head boys basketball coach Geo Lyons is calling for Valley Center High School fans to be removed from future sporting events after Valley Center Public Schools has apologized. In a change.org petition, Lyons said the boys and girls teams “experienced outright racism” while Valley Center’s administration let the students’ behavior continue.
“Players and spectators from Topeka High were called the N-word, threatened to be lynched and at one point a Topeka High player was taunted …,” he said. “The student section even passed around a naked Black baby doll and often waived to at Topeka High players.” In a statement to McClatchy News, a Valley Center Public Schools spokesperson said the district is working with Topeka High School Administration to “investigate claims of racist remarks being made.”
“As of this morning (12/6), administration from both schools have not found any evidence that such remarks were made during or following the basketball game,” she said. The spokesperson did confirm “fans from both sides became very loud and involved” during the “hard-fought boys’ basketball game,” and Valley Center students were involved in an “inappropriate chant” and passing around a Black baby doll. Administration “did their best to handle reported situations, particularly those involving some students in the Valley Center student section,” she said.
Students who were involved in inappropriate chants were removed from the game, and an off-duty police officer helped get everyone else to leave immediately after the game ended, according to the statement. Videos shared by a Topeka basketball player show the doll being used as a prop and other taunts Dec. 3 in Valley Center. Warning: expletive language can be heard in the second video. “Please help Topeka High bring light to this truly disgusting situation,” Jo’Mhara Benning said when sharing the videos she called “blatant racism and disrespect.”
“Nobody, myself included, did anything to protect my kids, or my child for that matter,” Lyons told KSN following the incident. “It was my son who was at the free throw line when the chant ‘he’s a (expletive)’ started; the N-word was used and thrown around, you know, our kids were told they were going to be hanged … I had a down locker room, I’m talking about tears were flowing in that locker room.” The Black baby doll was an infant simulator assigned to a student for a human growth and development class, according to the district statement. “Based on a review of videos, the baby was passed around between students during the game,” the spokesperson said. “While the ‘baby’ was not brought intentionally as a prop to taunt or threaten Topeka High School, without context, seeing the ‘baby’ and images of the ‘baby’ caused hurt and concern to many, and for that we are very sorry.”
Valley Center High School administration said they are continuing to investigate the incidents, including reviewing video and interviewing those who were there. “As a district, we sent a letter to all VCHS families and students explaining there would be follow-up consequences for those students involved, and that we, as a community, should learn and grow from this experience,” according to the statement. District administration also apologized to the Topeka High School community in a letter sent to the superintendent on Dec. 5.
“First, we are sorry. We are better than the conduct we exhibited on Saturday,” the letter said. “We would never want anyone in our schools, especially visitors, to feel insulted, upset, or disgusted by our behavior. The behavior exhibited was not in alignment with the values or teachings our district strives to uphold. We are embarrassed by this display and will work diligently to keep it from recurring.” Future games will have more supervision, according to the Valley Center statement. “Regardless of how the situation transpired on Saturday, the fact exists that people were hurt and are continuing to be hurt by what they experienced at our school,” the spokesperson said. “We are sorry. As a learning institution, we will take this event and learn from it.” In a message shared with Topeka families, Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson said she appreciates Valley Center’s apology. “However, we remain concerned and agree with their superintendent, that ‘they need to learn and grow from this experience,’” she continued. “We hope their district takes the appropriate steps to address what occurred with those involved.” Anderson said she is grateful for Topeka High School’s coaches, principal and the students “who modeled the conduct we expect from our students and we hope that it sets the example of what excellence looks like for others to learn from moving forward.”