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Hoops Taunting Turns Conversation to Equity Issues

When he heard fans making obnoxious monkey noises — and perpetuating a demeaning, repudiated and racist stereotype — while his Black players shot free throws during a basketball game last Wednesday night in Pearl River, Nyack High School head coach Ethan Smith, who is Black, called the experience “surreal,” according to CBS. 

“You hear it,” said Nyack senior captain Harrison Jordan about the noises, “but you don’t believe it.”

A video of the monkey noises — which Jordan said happened three separate times during the game against Nyack– went viral after being posted on Twitter last Thursday, setting off a wave of institutional indignation, local (and even some national) media coverage and an acknowledgment from Pear River officials that this wasn’t an isolated incident.

LoHud’s Nancy Cutler, who wrote the most comprehensive response article, spoke to a wide-range of stakeholders, including Pearl River schools superintendent Marco Pochintesta, who confirmed that there was a similar racial-taunting incident involving fans from Pearl River during a game against Suffern on Jan. 28th. Cutler also reported that this was the fourth documented instance of overt discrimination at Pearl River High School this year. The others involved vandalism against public promotion of LGBTQ groups and pride on campus.

In the wake of the incident last week, Nyack Schools Superintendent Eudes Budhai said he called for an official investigation and that he and Pochintesta had spoken several times to determine the best way to address the issue. Budhai said Pearl River should address the issues directly, but that Nyack, which has been lauded for its diversity and inclusion efforts in the past, would help in any way they could. Budhai said Nyack would be “opening doors” in terms of staffing and programming.

For his part, Pochintesta condemned the fans’ behavior as unacceptable and said his administration would address the students responsible through the District’s official Code of Conduct. According to the Code, the district’s rules are designed “to enable our young people to become responsible, respectful and caring citizens within the school and community settings.”

Depending on the school’s interpretation, the fans at Pearl River could be looking at suspensions, which can be enacted under the following conditions:

“The Board of Education, District Superintendent, Superintendent of Schools, a Building Principal or in
his/her absence, an acting Building Principal, may suspend a student from school where it is determined that
the student:
? is insubordinate or disorderly, or exhibits conduct which endangers the safety, morals, health or
welfare of others; or
? exhibits a physical or mental condition(s) which endangers the health, safety or morals of
himself/herself or of other students; or
? is removed from a classroom for substantially disrupting the educational process or substantially
interfering with the teacher’s authority in the classroom four or more times in one semester.”

For further context, Cutler pointed out the stark differences in diversity between Nyack and Pearl River: “Pearl River school district is 2% Black, 16% Hispanic or Latino, and 76% white, according to New York State Education Department data. Nyack schools are 16% Black, 26% Hispanic or Latino, and 42%e white.”

The Nyack branch of the NAACP said in a statement that the Pearl River fans’ “discriminating behavior” wouldn’t be tolerated by this “global community” and added that the incident “must serve as a teachable moment and opportunity for school leaders.”

Tre Beamon, a Nyack alum, told CBS he witnessed similar racist behavior from Pearl River fans 10 years ago. “It’s been going on for years,” he said.

On Friday, Feb. 11, in a game against North Clarkstown, the Nyack boys were back on the court, this time with a fully supportive home crowd behind them.

The next day, Nyack’s official athletic department Twitter account wrote: “Thank you to all those within our community and from outside, who have supported the student athletes and coaches we love and care about. We will continue to advocate for education for all involved and we all can learn to be better each and every day.”

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