CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — The superintendent of Central Falls schools submitted a letter to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League on Wednesday requesting that league officials investigate an incident that occurred the previous night in Burrillville.
Dr. Stephanie Downey Toledo said Central Falls student-athletes were “subjected to both passive and overt racism from the fans in Burrillville” during a volleyball match on Tuesday.
According to Burrillville Superintendent Dr. Michael Sollitto, students chose “Red, White and Blue” as a theme for Tuesday night’s match. He said they dressed in patriotic clothing, brought American flags, and chanted “U-S-A.”
“It was reported that some students made insensitive, inappropriate, and racist remarks,” during this time, according to Sollitto.
Downey Toledo said the two school districts are working together to learn the specifics of what happened. She commended the student-athletes for showing great sportsmanship “despite the discriminating and intimidating behavior” that reportedly occurred in the stands.
Sollitto called the behavior “unacceptable,” saying “racist remarks, intimidation, and hate speech will not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form by the Burrillville School Department.”
He also said any students found to be making such comments will be dealt with “swiftly and severely.”
Downey Toledo said it wasn’t an isolated incident, claiming that Central Falls students and their families have been subjected to biased and racist acts “game after game, year after year, even decade after decade.”
In a statement Thursday, RIIL Executive Director Thomas A. Mezzanotte didn’t reference the alleged incident specifically but offered a general reminder about sportsmanship in response to “recent incidents of improper behavior of student-athletes and coaches on the field or court and the ever-increasing unsportsmanlike behavior of spectators.”
In addition to having “clearly defined and articulated” standards of sportsmanship,” Mezzanotte said member schools are expected to provide a “welcoming, safe, and respectful environment” when hosting athletic contests. He said home schools are responsible for spectators’ conduct and anyone who violates those standards should be removed immediately.
Mezzanotte also asked that school and game officials report and incidents of unsportsmanlike behavior.
“During these difficult times, we need to work collaboratively and tirelessly to change the culture of poor sportsmanship that has plagued our society,” Mezzanotte said.
Last week, three La Salle Academy soccer players were suspended after a video containing racial slurs was posted on social media.