By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4) – School district leaders investigating claims of a Confederate flag displayed during a football game are still trying to figure out what happened and how both communities should move forward while teams from Manual High School and Weld Central High School did not meet on Monday.
“I heard it through social media,” said Manual High School student Alejandro Martinez.
“I heard about it from my great uncle,” De’Angel Banks said, another student at Manual.
The varsity football game between both teams ended Friday night with many in both communities unaware of any controversy. Over the weekend, the accusation that someone brought a Confederate flag from the crowd cheering for Weld Central and players made racial slurs toward the Manual team spread across the state.
“One of the coaches noticed there was a Confederate flag with a rebel,” Tay Anderson said on Sunday. He is a 2017 graduate of the school and was at the game. “A Confederate soldier, in the middle of it, as they were walking in.”
Students returned to school on both campuses Monday and did not mention the topic coming up in class and told CBS4 they weren’t discussing it with friends either. Three days after the game, there is still no evidence of a photo or video of a flag.
“In today’s day when we take a photo of our food to put on a social media site nothing was taken of such of situation,” Tim Watts said on Sunday, a fan of Weld Central that has relatives working and attending the school.
Those that reported seeing the flag after spotting it in the first quarter say it changed the mood of the game for the rest of the night. But the crowd in the Weld Central section say they experienced a totally different game.
“It created a hostile environment because of the political environment we’re in,” Anderson said.
“I saw a good game, I saw good sportsmanship by both teams,” Watts said. “I saw both sides helping each other up after they were tackled.”
Administrators have limited their comments since the game on Friday but the principal of Manual High School did release a letter to the community on Saturday. (See below.)
“The Weld Central High School team — which has a Rebel mascot — displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the game, offending many members of the Manual community,” principal Nick Dawkins said in part in his letter. “We asked them to remove the flag and they did so. However, the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field.”
The principal of Weld Central, Dan Kennedy, and the superintendent of the Weld County Re-3J school district, Greg Rabenhorst, released a statement together.
“We are not certain what may have led to what currently appears to be false accusations toward our team and spectators. Our administration will continue to investigate what happened,” a portion of the statement said.
Denver Public Schools did not release a formal statement over the weekend but said on Monday they were working to release more beyond what they shared Sunday.
“We are reaching out to the Weld Central High School community to jointly discuss the events of Friday night and how we can all move forward in a collaborative and positive spirit,” a DPS spokesperson emailed Sunday.
Manual High School students shared sentiments on Monday that could easily have come from both campuses on either side of this issue.
“People come to games and schools to learn,” said Banks “And to games to have fun.”
“I feel like we need evidence to see if the flag was there,” said Martinez. “I haven’t seen any pictures, somebody holding a flag.”
The Colorado High School Activities Association says it is aware of the issue related to the game but is letting the two districts work out the situation.
The junior varsity football teams from both schools were set to play in Keenesberg on Monday but both districts agreed to cancel that game. The new week will give school leaders a chance to keep investigating what happened and ask questions of their students and staff. But until they reach some consensus, the very different views of the same game from over the weekend will remain.
“I am certain I saw the flag,” Anderson told CBS4 on Sunday. “It was a Confederate flag with a rebel, a confederate soldier in the middle.”
“It was upsetting to me because I didn’t see any of this take place,” said Watts on Sunday to CBS4. “I didn’t see a flag, anything of that nature.”
STATEMENT FROM WELD COUNTY Re-3J School District and WCHS Principal:
Weld Central and all Re-3J families,
Many have heard the reports about the WCHS football game against Denver’s Manual High School this past Friday. We have been asked to make an official statement by several media sources. While the investigation is not complete, we feel it is important to update our community on the matter and to strongly denounce any form of racism.
As of today, evidence supports that our team and community were unfairly represented with what appears to be significantly inaccurate information presented to the Manual community and the media. The facts as we know them today do not support the claims reported by Manual officials. It was reported that our spectators displayed a confederate flag during the first quarter of the game. Our eyewitness staff and community members present at the game report that this did not occur. Multiple school officials have viewed a video recording of the game which contains footage of the Weld Central crowd. From our viewings, no signs of a confederate flag exist. Further, we have no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior on or off the field. High school administration was present and monitored student and crowd behavior throughout the game. At no point was any behavior displayed that required intervention.
We are not certain what may have led to what currently appears to be false accusations toward our team and spectators. Our administration will continue to investigate what happened, work collaboratively with Manual administration, and seek intervention from CHSAA as appropriate. At this point we have unilaterally cancelled future competitions with Manual High School until further notice.
The Re-3J Board of Education and administration do not condone any form of racism, including symbols of racism and hatred and racial slurs toward or about others. That type of behavior is unacceptable and far beneath the standards and expectations of our student code of conduct. As we investigate the incident to its completion, any behavior of this form found to be true will be subject to discipline. In the event any accusations are substantiated, we as a district will take full responsibility in condemning such behavior and disciplining students as appropriate.
We want to assure all of our community members and those communities we interact with that we do not tolerate racism of any form. The confederate flag and any other symbols of hate and racism play no role in our district. We hope that you will join us in condemning racism in all communities, including our own.
Thank you for your support of our students, the Weld Central community, and students across Colorado.
Superintendent of Schools
Principal, Weld Central High School
MANUAL HIGH SCHOOL LETTER FROM PRINCIPAL
Sept. 23, 2017
Dear Manual High School Community,
I hope you are enjoying this wonderful first fall weekend! I apologize for the Saturday email but I want to ensure you are updated about what occurred at our Friday night football game with Weld Central High School. What occurred is extremely concerning and I want to share the facts as I know them at this time.
Last night, the Weld Central High School team, which has a Rebel mascot, displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the game, offending many members of the Manual community. We asked them to remove the flag and they did so. However, the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field. Three of our players were injured during the game, including a student who suffered a concussion and a student who was transported to the hospital for a leg injury. I want to emphasize that the players received treatment and will be fine. In addition, some of our players reported that, when tackled, players from the opposing team taunted them with racial slurs.
I spoke with one of the team’s coaches at the game and am following up with their high school principal. Our superintendent, Tom Boasberg, and our Board of Education have been notified and Supt. Boasberg is reaching out to the Weld County superintendent to express our concerns that such symbols of racism and hatred, and racial slurs, ought to have no place in athletics or in any part of our students’ experiences. We are all very concerned about what occurred and are trying to gather as much information as we can so we can determine next steps. Please know that we are not aware of similar issues occurring when we played the Weld Central High School team last season. However, based on the information we have been able to gather, what happened at Friday night’s game is unacceptable.
I will keep you updated as we move forward and please feel free to reach out to me.