BEYOND THE GAME
Parent group calls for review of bias and discriminatory officiating in Bennett High/Maple Grove Football championship. But beyond the game, they say the issue of racial disparity throughout the district’s school system must be addressed.
Last year Bennett High School, along with South Park, became the first City of Buffalo teams to compete at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the Section VI championship.
For Bennett, listed as one of the district’s “persistently struggling schools,” having a team make it to the championship games provided a sense of pride for both players and students. But during the Section VI Class C final on November 9, heavily-favored Bennett lost 29-28 in overtime to Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake; the heartbreaking loss was compounded by what parents and community leaders are calling biased and discriminatory officiating.
A press conference on the steps of Bennett High was held on Monday to announce that theBuffalo Parent-Student Athletic Organization had filed complaints with the New York State Education Commissioner, New York State Public High school Athletic Association(NYSPHSAA) , and the Executive Director of Section VI requesting a review not only of what they perceive as unfair officiating during the game, but of the Athletic Association’s overall policies and practices as well.
Additionally the group is calling for the formation of a task force to explore diversity, equity and inclusion issues in the operation of the State High School Athletic Association and Section VI .“The officiating was so bad, that it left the kids borderline depressed, “ said Parent District Coordinating Council President Sam Radford. “It was obvious to everyone that the officials were not being fair and just.” “The calls were unbelievably bad,” added Bryon McIntyre, whose son Kion plays for the Bennett team. “Games like this kills the spirit of our children.” McIntyre has filed a formal discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
Radford said that the group decided to come forward and “stand up for the children” even if others were too fearful of losing their jobs or positions to do so. “Even the (Bennett) coach expressed that this was clearly the worse officiating he’d ever seen,” said Radford, who added that this was also reportedly an issue last year.
He pointed out that the lack of diversity among referee officials in the sporting event may be part of the problem. Bennett is an urban predominately African American School and team, while Maple Grove is a rural school with a predominately white football team. All the officials referring the game were White. This fact is not surprising since there are reportedly only five minorities among the total 125 or so certified officials who referee the games.
In their letter to officials the parent group wrote in part:
“On November 9, 2015 at a championship football game at the Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo between Buffalo’s Bennett High School and Maple Grove High School the officiating was so objectively biased against the Bennett High School team that parents, athletes, scouts and other patrons at the game were outraged. This is not an instance where supporters of one team are unhappy with an outcome, this is an instance where parents, students athletes and patrons expect a level playing field, fairness and equality of treatment for all student athletes. The events of theNovember 9, 2015 game was antithetical to our sense of fairness and, in fact, shocked the conscious. “The issue of urban, predominately African American sports teams and players and their treatment by Section VI management with concerns going back several years, are now at issue. We are now raising the question of whether or not the treatment of African American student athletes in Buffalo’s urban schools, under the purview of Section VI, constitute racially disparate unfair treatment and rise to the level of violating federal Title Vi and title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and/or the Equal Access of Education Act of 1974 and/or New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act.
“After the November 9 game, it is clear to us that the best interests of our kids, and competitive sports for all high school kids, require that we take aggressive action to address our concerns.” Bro. Dahveed Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said that his organization was “standing in unity” with the parentsand community leaders quest for fairness, but that the entire incident was systematicof a larger issue in Buffalo, and in the school system in particular: racial discrimination. Hecited the findings and recommendations put forth recently by expert Dr. Gary Orfield of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to provide greater diversity andto end allegations of discrimination in the admissions practices at certain criterion schools. Despite what he called the “arrogance” and “so-what-sue-us” attitude, among some Board members, hecalled on the Board to move forward and implement Dr. Orfield’s recommendations..
The Bennett High football issue will also be brought before the Board. It goes beyond who won or who lost, said Radford. “Right now we don’t believe that (the officiating) was fair and objective…(and) we’re calling for an objective analysis…and a report…but we are not going to allow our children to be discriminated against unfairly …we are not going to sit back and be quiet…and sweep this under the rug…we don’t want people to get used to treating our children unfairly.”
“Racial disparity in one of the most segregated cities in America must be confronted,” he said.