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Racial incident’s aftermath is bringing out the best in New London and Plainfield

New London — In the week since a fight broke out after New London High School’s varsity football game at Plainfield High School last Friday, the two schools and communities have been working to learn from and move beyond the racially charged altercation.

On Thursday, Plainfield High School Principal Jim Worth hand delivered a letter of apology to New London High School and pledged to “immediately address any intolerance among our student body, families and fans.”

“The remarks made by recent graduates of Plainfield High School demonstrate ignorance and intolerance and is not accepted or tolerated by me or the school community,” Worth wrote. “Please know that these individuals are not representative of our school community.”

After Friday’s game, which Plainfield won after scoring a touchdown with less than a minute to play, a fight broke out as the New London team walked through a group of Plainfield fans to get to the team bus. Some of the fans “taunted the players and yelled racial slurs,” according to New London High School Principal William “Tommy” Thompson III.

Two former Plainfield High School students were arrested and charged with second-degree breach of peace and banned from future events on school grounds after the fight.

Even though current Plainfield students played no part in the donnybrook, a group of the school’s student-athletes this week created a YouTube video to reiterate their commitment to equality.

“We were not involved in any of this, but it has reflected on our entire town,” the athletes say in the video message. “We pledge ourselves to good sportsmanship and urge our families, friends and fans to do the same. And we won’t tolerate anything less. They must not either. We are a diverse school. Different races, different religions, different colors. The only colors that matter to us are the black and orange of Panther Nation.”

All week, Thompson said, he and Worth have been in touch and are working to plan an event or meeting between the two schools to renew the mutual respect between the student bodies.

“In my mind, there is no doubt that the two schools will take a leadership role in showing their communities where they stand, and I’m confident that our students will be the ambassadors of that,” Thompson said. “It’s nice to know that there was good sportsmanship on the field and there were kids that took the high road in a very chaotic event. It’s a good sign that the kids are the ones that are coming together and this is something that has been student-driven.”

Both schools are also working with the state NAACP Youth and College Division, which this week called for an investigation of the fight and the allegations that the use of racial slurs precipitated it.

Derell Wilson, the group’s president, said he first heard about the fight through emails from parents whose children were involved in the incident.

Wilson was troubled by the claims that New London players were called “monkeys,” “dogs,” the N-word and were told “to go back to (their) cages.”

He was equally troubled by how familiar it all sounded. As a football player for Norwich Free Academy from 2006 to 2010, Wilson said he encountered similar intolerance when playing in Plainfield. Once, he said, a brawl began on the field after Plainfield players hurled racist insults at the NFA team.

“We played a game in Plainfield and had a similar situation at the end of the game. So this isn’t the first time something of this magnitude has happened playing in Plainfield,” he said. “I understand that being the away team you do sometimes go into a hostile environment, but there it seemed more racially driven.”

Plainfield Superintendent Kenneth DiPietro said Thursday that he hopes Plainfield students will learn something from last week’s incident, despite the fact that the instigators are not current students.

“We need to take the opportunity when something like this happens to ask our students to think and reflect about why this happened and why it would happen in our community,” DiPietro said. “For anything to change, we need people to realize the only way we are ever going to truly resolve it is to discuss it.”

In New London, Thompson said, the student body understands that the fight last week was started by “a small group of spectators that came to a game with a different agenda.”

“Our kids are acutely aware that racism exists and that it is not a thing of the past,” he said. “It stings, but our strength is our diversity and it is also what attracts people to our New London campus. But they also know that some people don’t share that same value.”

Wilson said he understands that what happened in Plainfield last week could happen in any community, and he said the problem of racism in sports extends far beyond Connecticut.

“Sportsmanship has changed some and things that shouldn’t be accepted are being accepted,” Wilson said. “As a team, you come into heated games and understand words are going to be exchanged, but the proper words have to be exchanged.”

Wilson has offered to set up meetings between the NAACP and high school football teams to discuss the issue and suggested that teams should be required to complete cultural competency courses before the season begins.

“I think it is long overdue, the awareness piece of teaching athletes that you need to be aware that there are actions and words that do affect others,” he said. “You can be competitive and at the same time you can be a great sportsman to other teams.”

Twitter: @ColinAYoung


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