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Support for Schenectady soccer team after Niskayuna racist comments

Support for Schenectady soccer team after Niskayuna racist comments

Patriots conclude season
Support for Schenectady soccer team after Niskayuna racist comments
Schenectady's Patience Rhames chases down Columbia's Stefanie Simkins Thursday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Support has come in so many different ways for the Schenectady girls' soccer team since Tuesday night's game at Niskayuna, when racist comments were directed toward the Patriots.

"It's a national problem, and unfortunately, it hit us in the face," Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said Thursday night as the Patriots played their final game of the season against Columbia. "Nobody wins in that situation. It was an ugly situation. Ugly that our kids had to go through it. Ugly they [Niskayuna players] had to go through it."

A good-size crowd showed up at Larry Mulvaney Field Thursday in the rain to back their Schenectady team on senior night.

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"They are winners before they stepped on the field," said Bernie Whiting, an administrative paraprofessional for Schenectady's Class of 2021 and a member of the school's security staff for home sporting events. "Great group of girls."

Boynton has heard that often in recent days, receiving positive comments about the way the soccer team continued to play hard in a season strewn with losses, and about they way the Patriots dealt with the things they heard Tuesday night.

"They bit their lip and got on the bus," Boynton said. "They handled it well."

"I was there, and it was definitely awful," said Eugene Maye, the father of Schenectady senior Alexis Maye. "They were already down [on the scoreboard] and to have that on top of it, naturally the girls were upset. At the end it was, 'Let's get on the bus and be safe.'

"It was remarkable," Maye continued. "These are tough girls. They stick together and definitely care about each other. I'm definitely proud of them."

Boynton on Wednesday confirmed that Schenectady players were targeted with racist comments from "a small portion of the Niskayuna student body."

Another incident took place locally during the 2013 fall season when Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake was hosting Amsterdam in a football game, when a handful of Burnt Hills students were heard chanting "Amsterico." Those student were eventually punished, and an apology letter was sent from Burnt Hills to Amsterdam.

"We've had an outpouring of support, especially from the Niskayuna community. Teachers, parents, they've been very apologetic. 'That's not what we're about,'" Boynton said. "The Niskayuna girls were texting our girls and apologizing. I felt bad for them."

"[Niskayuna girls' soccer coach] Bryce Colby reached out to me," Schenectady coach Duane Wood said. "He was disappointed."

Niskayuna had held its own senior night ceremony before playing Schenectady.

"I made sure to tell the Niskayuna girls it wasn't their fault," Schenectady senior Naudia Lockett said. "They said they were apologizing for the ones who said things."

Lockett said those things stung.

"I heard certain comments. No one on a field should be talked to like that," Lockett said. "That was very difficult for the girls and sad to see. We've got a lot of young girls on the team."

"Another sad part is the soccer players from Niskayuna, it was their senior night, too," Eugene Maye said. "There are good people in Niskayuna. It's unfortunate that a group of kids ..."

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. Parents from both school districts have been interviewed as part of an investigation and said they heard the racist comments as well.

"They [Niskayuna administrators] were on it that night and right back at it the next morning," Boynton said.

Columbia won Thursday's game 3-0. Beforehand, the Columbia players presented those from Schenectady with flowers and hugs.

"I didn't expect that at all," Schenectady senior Anna Blanchfield said. "We really appreciated it."

Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. on Wednesday told Daily Gazette reporter Zachary Matson that 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. Tangorra 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.

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Tangorra 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.”

Just over a year ago before a football game between Niskayuna and Guilderland, six Niskayuna players and a cheerleader took a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality in America.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, jims@dailygazette.com or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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