2013-02-15 / Community

4 students ejected from basketball game

Principal isn’t convinced of teens’ patriotic motives
By Dawn Witlin

The ejection of four Adolfo Camarillo High School students from the boys’ basketball game versus Rio Mesa High School last Wednesday at Camarillo sparked a fervor of debate and rumor among students, parents and educators about the ongoing racist undertones in the heated crosstown rivalry.

Just after the national anthem, the four boys led Camarillo’s student section to chant “USA.”

Although the boys argued they were chanting USA and wearing red, white and blue bandannas to be patriotic, Camarillo High’s administrators felt the teens were feigning patriotism to taunt the students at Rio Mesa, which, based on state records, has a much larger percentage of Latino students than ACHS.

A school administrator asked the four boys to remove their bandannas because the headbands were in violation of school dress code.

In protest, the boys left the gym but returned shortly thereafter still wearing the bandannas. The boys again led the student section to chant “USA.”

Again, school officials asked the boys to either take off the headbands or leave.

The boys left the gym and then returned a second time to lead the ACHS students in chanting “USA.”

For twice defying the administrators, school officials threw the boys out of the gym and told them to report to Camarillo High Principal Glenn Lipman the following morning to discuss possible suspensions.

Attempts to reach the boys were unsuccessful.

Lipman said that, despite widespread rumors, it’s untrue that the boys were suspended from school while at the game.

Sparked by a social media campaign waged by the boys, hundreds of students gathered in front of Camarillo High’s main office in support of the students the following morning.

Lipman said the rally occurred before he could discuss any disciplinary action with the boys.

In response to the rally, Lipman called an impromptu school assembly to address the concerns of the demonstrators.

“I just wanted to make sure they understood the difference between patriotism and racism, because that’s the theme of this whole story,” the principal said. “The question is, why would they wear the USA headbands, which are not allowed, and chant ‘USA’ only for Rio Mesa? It’s a slap at Rio Mesa.”

Lipman said racial tension has existed between the teams for many years.

“Rio Mesa has a high Hispanic enrollment and in the past (Camarillo students) put up (signs) that say, ‘strawberry fields’ and ‘green cards’ and all kinds of things. Just at Rio Mesa,” Lipman said.

“So it’s just disrespect and it’s racism. I’ve been working for years to stop this, and we’ve curbed it until this happened.”

Some Camarillo students felt the boys were being patriotic, not racist.

Bailey Harmon, an ACHS senior, said the boys are known on campus for displaying patriotism at other athletic events and pep rallies.

“I personally think the administration did a lot of assuming,” said the 17-year-old.

Bailey also said he saw both Camarillo and Rio Mesa students chanting “USA” and believes the Camarillo students were singled out for their patriotism.

“I don’t think the (Camarillo administrators) should have ever asked the students to leave because it was done in the support of the country,” Bailey said. “If we can say the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, why is this any different?”

Although difficult to prove, the administrators from both schools argue the boys’ intent was to goad the Rio Mesa students and was racially charged.

“When (the United States) is playing France at a soccer game, I can understand why the crowd would yell USA,” said Brian FitzGerald, Rio Mesa’s longtime athletic director.

“That’s why people believe that it was directed at the Rio Mesa students, because kids don’t usually express their patriotism spontaneously in the middle of a high school athletic event.”

FitzGerald said the Camarillo students weren’t simply chanting “USA” but were cupping their mouths and pointing at the Rio Mesa students.

He said the Camarillo High administration did “a good job of getting a handle on the situation.”

“It’s a tough situation for any administration to control. . . . High school kids, by nature, tend to challenge authority, and in a large group situation it’s even tougher to handle,” FitzGerald said. “It was appropriately handled by the Camarillo administration, and we appreciate their attempts to stop it from escalating.”

FitzGerald said Rio Mesa students are often briefed before a game to display good sportsmanship, but it is sometimes difficult to control fans, especially during a rivalry game.

“I’m always on edge at a big rivalry game because there’s a potential for things to happen,” he said. “Chanting on one side turns into retaliation chants, but then it could turn into something more violent.”

FitzGerald said students at Rio Mesa have also acted inappropriately at games.

“Our kids have said inappropriate things, too, at times, and sometimes you can’t control it,” he said.

“We’re not super upset here at Rio Mesa. We understand the rivalry and how a situation can quickly devolve into something regrettable.”

Ultimately, after meeting with the four students and their parents, Lipman decided not to take further disciplinary action.

“I think it was pretty dramatic for (the four boys) going through that process,” said Lipman. “We tried to get at the heart of why they were (in my office), and I think we we’re all on the same page as far as what the topic is.

“It’s not about defiance. It’s about when it’s appropriate to display patriotism. I felt that they understood my position.”

Lipman said he hopes the Camarillo student body understands the difference between patriotism and racism after Wednesday night’s game.

“We’re Adolfo Camarillo High School, not the school of USA,” Lipman said. “Everybody was kind of in on whether it was patriotism or racism, and they wanted to convince me it was patriotism, and that’s not it at all. I’m still not convinced of that.

“I think it’s being mean and nasty, and I think it’s racism when we do that, but it’s hard to convince the world that you can’t chant ‘USA’ whenever you want.”

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