ARLINGTON, Va. — An altercation involving racial slurs and spitting between football players at a Fairfax County Public School and an Arlington Public School has resulted in a game suspension for several players.
During a football game on March 5, players from Marshall High School allegedly spoke racial slurs to players on Wakefield High School's team, and spit at them. The situation escalated throughout the game, and three players from Wakefield High School were suspended, according to APS Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán.
The Virginia High School League would not comment on what players got suspensions but confirmed that "three-game suspensions were handed out to those involved".
"The VHSL continues to make this a point of emphasis with our coaches and official associations that there is no tolerance for racially charged words or actions and strongly condemns racial slurs of any kind," said VHSL Director of Communications Mike McCall.
The suspensions were ultimately appealed and later dropped to one-game suspensions, APS officials said.
"Arlington Public Schools is outraged by the way Wakefield High School Varsity Football players were treated by the Marshall High School Football team in their March 5 game," Durán said in a letter to the Wakefield community. "The blatant acts of racism and disrespect towards the Wakefield players are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This lack of action by officials as players were spat upon and called names allowed the situation to escalate, resulting in the unfair suspension of three of our players."
FCPS officials said an investigation was conducted following the incident, involving VHSL, officials, staff, players and families.
"FCPS does not accept acts of intolerance. We have expectations of behavior in our students and staff; allegations such as these are taken seriously," Lucy Caldwell, spokesperson for FCPS, said in an email statement. "Every student must understand the value of appreciating each other's differences, extending common courtesy, and treating each other with respect. We must all be committed to do better."
Marshall High School Substitute Principal Augie Frattali also sent out a letter to Marshall families Thursday afternoon.
"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," he said. "I also worked collaboratively with the Wakefield HS principal to ensure that there will be an opportunity for the students to join together to discuss their actions and develop a plan moving forward."
According to Bellavia, APS administrators have also been meeting regularly with Wakefield officials and parents to provide support since the incident occurred.
WUSA9 first learned of the incident through a Facebook post by a mother of a Wakefield High School student.
"Our players from Wakefield High School experienced racial slurs, bigotry, spitting by players, unfair treatment by the refs, harassment by coaches and taunting by the opposing team as well as their parents," the mother wrote in a post on March 17. "This school's athletic teams have demonstrated a culture of bigotry and unsportsmanlike behavior."
The post went on to allege that Wakefield parents and coaches complained to the referees but said that penalties continued to be called against Wakefield players.
"The officiating that night was blatantly unjust," the post said. "Due to their lack of a response to this behavior at the end of the game a Marshall High School player spit on a Wakefield player and an altercation resulted from that.
Another Wakefield parent Monique Bryant said some Marshall players said the N-word to players on her son's team. She said at least one Marshall player tried to spit on Wakefield players.
"The athletes did exactly what they were supposed to," Bryant said. "They told their coaches, the coaches were telling the officials, the referees, and the referees chose not to do anything."
Bryant said she was also angry some Wakefield boys were suspended for defending themselves. She said she was only aware of one Marshall player being suspended.
"In this environment, when we're teaching our sons about racial injustices and to protest and to advocate for themselves and for those that don't look like them, it's just a slap in the face that as student-athletes, they should take this on the chin," she said.
The Northern Virginia Football Officials Association released the following statement:
"The Northern Virginia Football Officials Association (NVFOA) was established in 1947 to provide opportunities for men and women in our community to facilitate the advancement of interscholastic football throughout the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. Our Association is recognized throughout the region and the Commonwealth of Virginia as a pre-eminent officiating organization.
Our membership reflects the demographics of our community, and because of this, we have a heightened insight to issues pertaining to race, religion, and gender, particularly during the heat of athletic competition.
The NVFOA has an established track record of enforcement and adherence to the rules regarding the use of foul language, racial slurs, and unsportsmanlike acts. In high school athletic contests, these acts are violations of NFHS rules – the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Foul language, racial slurs, and unsportsmanlike acts (including fighting) are not tolerated. Incidents such as these have been and remain a major point of emphasis for our Association. We regularly communicate with all of our officials to be alert to any such incidents.
During this unique and unusual season, we appreciate the sacrifices of all those involved in high school sports – boards of health, school administrators, coaches, players, parents, and officials (referees). They enable the games to be played and ensure a safe and appropriate environment for all.
The men and women who make up the membership of NVFOA are proud to be a part of high school football, and we will continue to fairly and equitably enforce the rules governing these contests."