Syracuse, New York, city school officials believe that race played a central role in a high school football brawl between the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler and Watertown teams on Friday, Oct. 13.
The superintendent said fans at the host school, Watertown, spewed racial slurs toward the students, including calling them the N-word, coons, and monkeys.
Syracuse City School District Superintendent Anthony Q. Davis shared that the crowd at the game instigated the fight in the second quarter, leading to the cancelation of the game and for PSLA at Fowler to forfeit its next critical game.
“It was coming from the field, and there were specific terms used, (n-word), coons, monkeys, all of those things were used against the kids on the field,” Davis said, adding the comments were directed at the Fowler players and their parents at the game, according to Syracuse.com.
As the teens started to fight on-field, officials made the decision to end the game with just over a minute remaining in the first half. Fowler was winning 22-7 over Watertown High School.
Officials declared the game “no contest.” That means neither team, one composed of white players and the other predominantly Black, would face any penalties. However, for one of the schools, this incident cast a shadow over their entire season.
Initially, the school officials stated that the team would forfeit its Section III Class A2 play-in game against Nottingham on Friday, Oct. 20. The move allowed Nottingham to advance directly to the sectional tournament. The forfeit also ensured that PSLA Fowler would not be able to go on to the season’s big games.
“They will not be able to play in the playoffs, but they will finish their season with crossover games. Teams that do not make the playoffs are allowed to continue to play these crossover games,” said Michael Henesey, the district’s public information officer.
The leadership at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler said the students’ conduct was a disappointment. In their opinion, even if the kids were being taunted, they should have kept their heads cool.
“I want to start by saying that I am very disappointed in our team and their reaction to the Watertown team and fans during Friday night’s game,” Fowler athletic director Jolene Todd said in a statement.
“We do not condone that type of behavior, and our student-athletes will be held accountable,” she added.
Todd acknowledged that there was an “unhealthy amount of taunting and poor sportsmanship” directed at the players on his team from the moment they got to the field, leading up to the altercation.
“No matter what is said or done on the field during a game or before it or even after it, it is never OK to respond the way our players did but make no mistake about it they are not alone in this,” he said. “They were pushed to the brink and unfortunately responded.”
The students, according to the athletics director, are excellent athletes who have excelled in the sport and demonstrated outstanding sportsmanship throughout their high school careers, being finalists in the New York State Association of Certified Football Officials Francis J. Clark sportsmanship award for two consecutive years.
Watertown’s leadership said they, too, have addressed the altercation with their students but stopped short of validating claims that racial slurs were used.
“Allegations of the use of racial slurs are contrary to the goals and mission of the Watertown City School District and continue to be investigated. Any incident that is found will be promptly addressed pursuant to the District’s Code of Conduct,” said Watertown’s superintendent, Dr. Larry Schmiegel. “This is an ongoing investigation, and we are not able to comment further. The Watertown City School district is, however, fully committed to providing an environment that is free of harassment or intimidation for our student-athletes as well as all visiting athletes and spectators.”