A former Lamoille County educator has been hired to look into racially tinged epithets allegedly hurled by high school football players during a recent playoff game.
Tracy Wrend, the longtime superintendent for the Lamoille South school district, is leading an investigation into the Oct. 30 Division 3 playoff game between Otter Valley and Mill River. According to officials in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, athletes reported hearing racial slurs and “escalating ‘trash talk’” being used by other athletes during the first-round matchup, held at Otter Valley in Brandon.
Wrend declined to comment on her role, deferring to the Vermont Principals Association, which oversees high school sports in the state, and which hired her for this job.
Jay Nichols, the VPA’s executive director, said Wrend’s role involves interviewing everyone involved in the Oct. 30 contest — players, officials, coaches, fans and parents. He said the two superintendents overseeing the schools involved asked the association for the investigation, knowing it “was going to be a he-said, she-said” situation.
Wrend, who resigned this summer after 14 years as Lamoille South superintendent, was, in recent years, a political lightning rod. She was on the receiving end of a wrongful termination suit filed by a former Peoples Academy teacher, and a federal jury sided with the former teacher.
However, Wrend is a well-respected administrator around the state, particularly when it comes to student bullying, Nichols said. He said when the superintendents for Otter Valley and Mill River saw Wrend’s name on a list of potential investigators, “they both said, ‘Yeah, we want her.’”
There have been numerous reports of bad behavior on the athletic fields this fall, most notably during a regular season soccer game between Enosburg and Winooski. A Winooski player headbutted an opponent and was ejected, but Winooski claimed Enosburg’s fans were peppering the air with racial vitriol.
Closer to home, the Lamoille Union High School girls were allegedly subjected to sexualization and body shaming by fans at Missisquoi Union High School during a playoff game.
Nichols said those incidents were handled without use of a third-party investigator like Wrend.
“I wouldn’t say we were satisfied with the outcomes, but we didn’t have enough evidence to take action,” he said.
The principals association and several Vermont schools resorted to handing out rules of conduct to fans during playoff games, which include things like being respectful to refs and not heckling players by name or number.
“There really is no place for that at a high school game,” Nichols said. “Cheer your kids on.”