NISKAYUNA -- Niskayuna students watching Tuesday’s varsity girls soccer game against Schenectady were heard using racial slurs toward black Schenectady players during the game, according to school officials.
Niskayuna administrators are investigating reports of the incident, and in a statement posted on the district's website said such behavior is a violation of “everything that we stand for as a school district.”
Schenectady schools athletic director Steve Boynton on Wednesday confirmed that Schenectady soccer players were targeted with racist comments from the Niskayuna fans section. He said he was proud of how the Schenectady players handled themselves during the game and that some of the players broke down in tears after the game.
“That did occur from a small portion of the Niskayuna student body,” Boynton said of the racist remarks. “[The Schenectady players] handled themselves like young ladies.”
Boynton said he and Niskayuna athletic director Larry Gillooley on Wednesday interviewed Schenectady players about what happened. The players listed the comments they heard and detailed where they heard them. Players and parents from both school districts have been interviewed as part of the investigation and said they heard the racist comments as well.
Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. on Wednesday said he didn’t know if the comments came from a small group of students or a larger group, and that it was still under investigation. He said communities around the country deal with these kinds of issues and he listed steps the district has taken to improve sensitivity to students from different races and backgrounds, including hiring a new equity coordinator and providing teachers with professional development focusing on diversity.
He said once the district determines which students hurled the slurs they will face discipline under the district's code of conduct.
“I was disappointed,” Tangorra said of hearing about the incident. “We work very hard to create a welcoming community … to stamp out this type of behavior. So, we have some work to do.”
Grace Canty, a former Schenectady soccer player who watched her two sisters play in Tuesday’s game, said she didn’t hear the comments directly, but she spoke about the incident with her sisters after the game. She said Schenectady players had a group chat going after the game, in which they shared what they heard during the game. The comments included phrases like, “go back to Africa,” and, “black girls can’t play soccer,” Canty wrote in a letter to The Daily Gazette. There were other slurs as well.
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She said during the game a large Niskayuna student contingent loudly cheered on their team, as they ran up a big lead against Schenectady. She said the cheering started to feel out of proportion as the game wore on, and the shutout lead grew to nine goals. She said she interpreted the attitude from the Niskayuna side as a “flex of privilege.”
The mother of a Schenectady player posted on Facebook about the racial slurs at Tuesday night’s game, a post that had received hundreds of comments and shares by Wednesday afternoon.
“Tonight my heart breaks for my bi-racial daughter and her soccer team,” the mom posted on Facebook. “Never did I think I’d have to hold my daughter's head up from racism by kids her age!”