Racial and transphobic slurs brought a South Burlington-Burlington girls’ volleyball game to a sudden stop last week.

“I’ve been an athletic director for eight years now,” Michael Jabour, who oversees sports at South Burlington High School, told VTDigger. “And verbal abuse that student-athletes face has been very consistent.”

The slurs were shouted from the stands and were aimed at players from visiting Burlington High during a match at South Burlington High School Oct. 6.

“A spectator was ejected after bystanders reported and contacted coaching staff about unsportsmanlike conduct and derogatory remarks,” a statement from the South Burlington girls’ volleyball team said.

When the referee was made aware of the incident, play was stopped while the referee conferred with the coaches.

“It was determined that significant harm was done, and the decision was made to stop the match, with Burlington coaches helping their players leave the court,” a joint statement from the Burlington and South Burlington school districts said.

Burlington forfeited the match at the time because it did not want to play in those circumstances, but South Burlington has now offered to take the forfeit, so Burlington won’t be credited with a loss.

Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, said the schools will agree on who forfeits the match.

According to a joint statement Jabour and Burlington School District athletic director Quaron Pinckney, “Discrimination in any form can no longer be allowed to happen and these incidents must not be swept under the rug. We condemn all acts of discrimination which are painful not only to the targeted students but those who must experience second-hand victimization as they are forced to witness and left to digest these painful incidents. These incidents are not relegated to athletic venues or one or two cities in Vermont. One week, someone in your city may be a victim and the next week, someone in your city may be the accused.”

The schools are working together “on processing the incident,” the joint release said, and on Thursday, the South Burlington team traveled to Burlington High for a “restorative circle.”

The restorative circle gets kids together to help restore respect lost when hurtful comments are made, Spencer Avery, Burlington High boys’ volleyball coach, said.

Better reporting?

Avery said racist, homophobic and transphobic comments are heard from time to time. “I wouldn’t say regularly, but it’s definitely not rare. It doesn’t happen consistently, but we have these issues come up at least once a year.”

Johnson said there have been at least three similar incidents in the last month.

On Thursday, the day after the South Burlington-Burlington volleyball game, the Hartford High School girls’ soccer team walked off the field in the middle of a game at Fair Haven Union High School because of alleged sexual harassment from the stands, according to the Valley News.

Hundreds of people showed up for a Winooski High School boys’ soccer team after racial slurs were shouted at the team during a game against Enosburg Falls High School at the end of September, according to multiple news reports.

Winooski School District superintendent Sean McMannon said in a statement that Winooski High players of color “were called the N-word, monkey and terrorist” during the September game in Winooski.

“This continued racial violence against Winooski student-athletes makes me sick to my stomach, boils my blood and needs to stop,” McMannon said, who issued his statement on Twitter.

Johnson isn’t sure if there are more incidents happening or if they are being more diligently reported. Recently, the Vermont Principals’ Association developed a reporting mechanism for these types of incidents. Within the first three weeks, there have been at least two reports of racist slurs, Johnson said.

The principals’ association has a diversity, inclusion and equity committee working on how to better track information about such incidents and if they happen more in certain areas. Jabour and Pinckney are co-chairs of the committee, which is working on processes for coaches and students to report abuse.

“If we have two or three or four reported incidents coming from the same school, we’re going to contact that school and say, ‘What’s going on?’” Johnson said. “It gives us a little more accountability.”

Johnson said when he was coaching basketball and track and field at least three decades ago, he didn’t hear these kinds of comments.

The statement from the South Burlington volleyball team said, “This situation has highlighted that South Burlington is not free of racial and social injustices. As students, parents and community members, it is our responsibility to ensure that each game is free of violence and pain caused by derogatory remarks.”

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