Burlington High School's girls' varsity volleyball team
A girls' varsity volleyball game between Burlington and South Burlington was stopped on Wednesday after someone in the stands directed racial and transphobic slurs toward Burlington players, the schools said in a statement on Friday.
Game officials made the call after a spectator told a referee another person in the crowd used the slurs.
"Stopping play after being alerted to discriminatory behavior is unequivocally the right thing to do," the districts said in thanking the officials. "By stopping play and connecting with the athletes and coaches on both sides, they showed great judgment in prioritizing the safety and well-being of the students, which must come first in any school-affiliated event."
South Burlington offered to forfeit the game in solidarity with the Burlington team.
The incident came weeks after three Enosburg Falls High School athletes allegedly hurled racist slurs at a Winooski player during a September 18 soccer match. Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union, of which Enosburg is a part, is currently investigating those allegations.
Winooski Superintendent Sean McMannon wrote a letter about that incident, calling for the Vermont Principals' Association to develop better procedures to investigate racial abuse in school sports.
The response to the South Burlington-Burlington incident is a markedly different approach to the often dead-end investigations that schools typically conduct after racial abuse is alleged in sports. The day after the game, South Burlington volleyball players traveled to Burlington to participate in a restorative circle, with the intention of repairing harm that had been done because of the incident. Both schools also made guidance counselors available to students who needed to process the event.
South Burlington administrators, with the help of Burlington school leaders, have launched an investigation to determine whether what happened violated the district's hazing, harassment and bullying policy. And athletic directors for both districts released a joint statement about the incident on Friday.
"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 student(s) but those who must experience second-hand victimization as they are forced to witness and left to digest these painful incidents," South Burlington athletic director Mike Jabour and Burlington athletic director Quaron Pinckney wrote.
"These incidents are not relegated to athletic venues or one or two cities in Vermont," the statement continued. "One week, someone in your city may be a victim and the next week, someone in your city may be the accused."
The two Black athletic directors , who cochair the VPA's newly formed diversity, equity and inclusion committee, called on the VPA, Vermont Superintendents Association, and Agency of Education to treat these incidents seriously and do more to support students and schools in handling them.
"It is not the responsibility of the VPA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee chairs alone to address these issues in the public or fight for change," they wrote in their statement. "We all must be a part of this crucial work to keep our kids safe.”
Pinckney and Jabour said they will also create a statement to be shared at the beginning of each athletic match-up between Burlington and South Burlington that states that there will be no tolerance for discrimination before, during or after sporting events.
In their own statement Friday, Burlington superintendent Tom Flanagan and South Burlington superintendent Dave Young joined McMannon's call for more support to combat racism in sports. They also praised the leadership of Jabour and Pinckney on issues of equity and inclusion.
"However, they cannot, and should not, have to do this work alone," Flanagan and Young wrote, "and we echo their calls for more and better engagement and action at the state level."
Burlington's junior varsity and varsity girls' volleyball teams were expected to make a brief statement about the incident on Friday during home games.