Foul: Racial epithet aimed at Armstrong basketball team sparks investigations

Ronald E. Carrington | 3/13/2020, 6 a.m.
Officials from Richmond Public Schools and the Richmond Branch NAACP are investigating allegations that the Armstrong High School boys basketball ...

Officials from Richmond Public Schools and the Richmond Branch NAACP are investigating allegations that the Armstrong High School boys basketball team, cheerleaders and fans were taunted with racial epithets during the state playoffs in Northern Virginia in late February.

“The team, cheerleaders and Armstrong fans were called ... the N-word by Central High School’s teams and fans,” said James E. “J.J.” Minor III, president of the Richmond Branch NAACP and an Armstrong alumnus who talked with the coaches following the Feb. 29 incidents.

“Students in the stands wore T-shirts with the Confederate Stars and Bars, waved the (Confederate) flag and made shooting gestures with their hands,” he said.

“Racism is real.”

The Armstrong team, composed of African-American players, was taking on Central High School of Woodstock, an all-white team, during the state 3B semifinals held at the Shenandoah County school’s gymnasium.

According to reports, Armstrong Coach Darryl Watts and Athletic Director Glenn Anderson made a game official aware of a racial slur used against one of the players, sophomore Taemon Doswell. However, the official didn’t immediately stop the game.

The officials eventually paused the game, benching both teams before conferring with coaches from Armstrong and Central high schools. The officials then issued a warning to the Central High Falcons before restarting the game.

Despite being rattled by the incidents, the Armstrong Wildcats took the high road and continued playing, although they lost the game to Central 47-37.

Calls by the Free Press to Coach Watts and Mr. Anderson have not been returned.

The incidents have drawn media attention locally and in Northern Virginia, with RPS officials and the civil rights organization now stepping in.

Central High Principal Lori Swortzel confirmed to a Shenandoah County newspaper that she saw the Confederate flag in that school’s student section before the game. She said she and Central’s athletic director, Justin Broughman, confiscated it, citing a school policy that doesn’t allow anything deemed “disruptive” to a school day or event.

She also told the newspaper that school administrators were made aware of what she de- scribed as a “gesture” made by a Central High student that had been directed at the Armstrong cheerleaders during the game.

“We’ve talked to the referees, the Shenandoah Referee Association and the VHSL (Virginia High School League) in order to conduct our own investigation,” she told the newspaper.

The VHSL is looking into the complaints and issued a statement last week that said, in part, “We have had ongoing talks with both schools as we gather facts. As you can guess, we take very seriously player and fan safety at all our regular season and post-season games. We are still in the process of reviewing all the information gathered from the game.”

Mr. Minor said Tuesday that he called the VHSL and “advised them” that the league’s sportsmanship com- mittee investigating the inci- dents “should include diversity among its members.”

In a statement released March 5, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said his office is taking the matter seriously and has been in communication with Shenandoah County Public Schools officials “to ensure that we have a complete and accurate account of the events so that it can be addressed through the appropriate venues.”

Richmond School Board Vice Chair Cheryl L. Burke, who represents the 7th District in which Armstrong is located, met on March 4 with the basketball team, cheerleaders and coaches.

“Armstrong’s team is upset and they want to know what are we going to do about it as adults,” said Ms. Burke, a retired Richmond elementary school principal.

She noted the Armstrong students had been respectful and followed all the rules and expectations when confronted with the situation.

“It’s time for the team to get some tender loving care by the community,” Ms. Burke said. She also expressed a need to pray for the Falcons.