A memorable winter sports season has come to a close with the crowning of champions in wrestling and boys and girls basketball.
For a group of boys from Summit Academy, what should have been a shining moment appears to have become one they’d rather forget.
Summit Academy, a charter school in Draper playing in Class 2A, defeated Layton Christian for the school’s first basketball title last weekend at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield. But what allegedly happened in the stands that night — and outside the arena the night before — left the Bears shaken.
Emery fans, no doubt bitter at the way the Spartans lost to the Bears in the previous night’s semifinals, turned their attention to rooting against Summit Academy in the championship game. But, according to Summit Academy coaches and players, the vitriol coming from the stands went far beyond just wanting the Bears to lose. Fans from multiple schools banded together to root against the Bears, and some of those cheers and jeers allegedly turned ugly — maybe even racially insensitive, according to reports in the Salt Lake City media and social media posts from some associated with the Bears’ program.
The night before the championship game, several Summit Academy players were allegedly harassed while buying drinks at a convenience store located next to the team’s hotel in Richfield. An adult Emery fan — not a child, but an adult — made angry comments toward one of the Bears’ star players. As the players left the store, a car allegedly pulled up next to them and the passengers inside began shouting racial epithets.
According to a social media post, Summit Academy officials and players spent much of the night filling out police reports.
Now, all we have to go off of is what has been reported. Without hearing the other side of the story or watching video, it is hard to tell whether it truly was as bad as it sounds.
But I will say this: if any of it is true, rural Utah should be embarrassed.
It doesn’t matter that the Summit Academy players and coaches may not have been exemplary in terms of sportsmanship during the tournament, as some fans alleged in online comments. If you haven’t noticed, high school athletes can be cocky sometimes, and a fired-up coach may use a profanity or two on occasion. It’s not what you want to see, but it happens.
If there were any sort of racial undertones to any of the taunts coming from the crowd, it’s beyond unacceptable.
Some argue that their anger is directed at the fact that Summit Academy is not a public school, and therefore attracts a higher-quality athlete than a rural school that has to go with what they’ve got. That argument has existed since I was in high school. It exists now with Juan Diego playing Class 3A football when the Soaring Eagle likely should be in Class 3AA.
Granted, not all private/charter schools are created equal. Rowland Hall is not a dominant force. Nor are St. Joseph’s, Intermountain Christian or Mt. Vernon Academy, for that matter.
But if fans are concerned about Summit Academy being in Class 2A, the solution isn’t to launch insults from the crowd. Boo if you must. But chanting “USA! USA!” in reference to a player you don’t think is American — or possibly as an acronym for a slightly off-color put-down, as one Internet commenter suggested — is not acceptable.
Summit Academy officials suggested that the state tournament be taken out of central Utah and relocated to the Wasatch Front. That’s not a solution because fans, both good and bad, will follow the tournament wherever it goes.
The solution? Perhaps we all have lost a little perspective. First of all, it’s a game. Second of all, these are kids. This isn’t the equivalent of the Utah Jazz playing a team full of sixth-graders. If the Bears are good, they’re good. But it’s not like Summit Academy is setting the rest of the Class 2A sports world on fire.
But, all that aside, the bottom line is this: there is no room for racial intolerance anywhere in society — least of all, when children — playing a game that they love — are involved.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He would like to remind anyone involved with high school sports — players, coaches, fans and parents — to win with humility and lose with dignity. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.