A visit to our County: Sheldon HS cheerleaders allege racial, homophobic harassment

27192008“The Nevada Union women’s basketball team topped Sheldon on Tuesday night in front of a packed gym to advance in the regional tournament — but it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that the Miners principal checked his email and got a sinking feeling in his stomach,” Sacramento TV station KCRA reported on Wednesday night.

‘”I was embarrassed and shocked,’ Nevada Union Principal Michael Blake said.

“During the game — which the Miners won handily, 77-47 — Sheldon’s cheerleaders contend they were taunted by some Nevada Union fans.

“The cheerleaders say they were called racial and homophobic slurs.

“‘While we were there, cheering on our team, their fan section was calling us racial slurs and calling us unnecessary names,’ Sacramento’s Sheldon cheerleader Hayley Hart said.

“The cheer team complained to the school administration, but the harassment continued, the group said.

“‘They were throwing pennies at us, saying that is all we are worth,’ cheerleader Ashley Harvey said. ‘I could not believe it, and I could not help but get upset about it.’

“Several cheerleaders’ parents wrote Blake an email voicing their displeasure.

“‘I was at the game,’ Blake told KCRA 3. ‘I thought (it) was a great atmosphere. The gym was packed. Sheldon’s band was here. We had our band there.

‘”I did not hear those those type of things myself. But those comments are totally inappropriate and completely unacceptable.’

“The cheerleaders said the crowd at one point also threw coins at them — and used other slurs toward them, their team and the coaching staff.

“Blake spent Wednesday investigating, he said.

“The school plans to change the seating section for the student body for the next home game, which is Wednesday night for a boys playoff matchup.

“School officials will not invite some of the fans back in at the next game, and plan on discussing the topic with students in class.

“‘We want to do everything we can to make sure this will not happen again,’ Blake said.

The video of the news segment is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

26 thoughts on “A visit to our County: Sheldon HS cheerleaders allege racial, homophobic harassment”

  1. In all my interactions with Principal Blake he is a class act. One of the hardest things I deal with living in Nevada County is the disconnect due to the lack of diversity. This is embarrassing and unbelievable behavior in 2014 California. If we look at our right wing blogs and some of the commentary these types of attitudes are definitely present in our county. My guess a formal letter of apology from Nevada Union has made it to Sheldon already and some form of olive branch will be on its way.

    As a coach and representative of Nevada Union Athletics I personally apologize to the Sheldon cheerleaders and the entire school for having to put up with such inexcusable behavior.

    1. That certain “vibe” you referred to in your previous post about what you felt when going to a TP sponsored event? That was hate Ben. Pure. Simple. Hate. Now the rest of us pay, with news coverage exposing just how deep it is-

      1. Chip,
        I think with all of the high school students it is less about hate and more about ignorance. Being immature and trying to be funny can get ugly sometimes and I think this is one of those times. My guess like usual the vast majority of students didn’t participate in the bad behavior. I cringe every time I see the pick up with the stars and bars confederate flag hanging parked on Ridge Rd during school hours. Coaching Jr High Basketball and High School Softball I have heard some racist comments from players not intending to be insulting or negative but racist none the less. I try and educate them on how the remarks are racists and try to give a little insight from my growing up in a very diverse community. Now if we are talking about the parents where many of these types of behavior are learned comes from misguided hate.

  2. The energy in the gym was heated with a team chant and much cheering on Sheldons part they had over 20 cheerleaders. It was obvious that they were very embarrassed to loose so badly. They were playing very hard and the fouls were not just slaps on the wrist. So It was far from one sided.

  3. Who are these kids modeling? This is learned behavior. Abhorrent behavior — and our community is thick in it.

  4. No doubt the problem is deeper than “changing the seating section for the student body for the next home game,” as the principal states. This is a systemic problem in our community. An “elephant in the corner.” My wife and I are surprised to hear our son relate what he hears in middle school about what other students say about President Obama and African-Americans in general on the playground. It’s personal and ugly. If you don’t “nip it in the bud” at a young age, it escalates to high school – and beyond.

    1. Mike Blake’s reported responses to restrict and punish the offenders gives some insight into why this incident, most probably representative of many unreported and disregarded incidents, surfaced in this manner. Sweeping racism under the rug with repression, as his stated interventions would do, does nothing to address the ignorance and fears where it finds its power and lives in our community and schools.

      If Mike Blake is the competent and serious leader his position his position demands, he will initiate evidence based and thoughtful discussions on racism and bigotry as an ongoing policy that will allow students to reconcile within themselves who they are and what they share in common with everyone. Punishing and condemning racism only drives it deeper.

      We can be ashamed of this “publicily reported” incident, as I am, but nothing will change until we face it head on and do the work required to build a better understanding of ourselves and those who are different from us. If our schools accomplish anything worthwhile, it will first be this.

    2. I’d take it a giant step further, Jeff, and argue “This is a systemic problem,” in the World. Since the behavior apparently exhibited, I dare say, is not part of the school’s curriculum and not taught by the teaching staff (overtly), then one must assume that these behaviors are taught/learned/modeled at home, even if unintentionally. A very slippery slope is developing an all encompassing definition of “how to be the better person,” and an even steeper and more treacherous slope is teaching “Character,” in such a way as to be effective and override how ‘Character’ is defined and exhibited in the multitude of individual homes. Even more problematic, if no parent is at home, is learning these qualities from TV shows — although I suppose TV programming is often an improvement over what many parents would see fit to teach. (Fox probably trail blazed bad taste and behaviors with shows like Married With Children.) And lesson #1 would certainly differ in, say, a Nevada High classroom from the classes I taught, consisting of mostly of Mexican, Vietnamese, Samoan gang members and the hate filled Skinheads.

      Another difficult but intrinsic part of the equation, and probably the ‘truest’ thing I learned in Marine Corps boot camp, is that there will always be the 10 percent that screw everything up for the other 90 percent. Debatable? Sure, but my life experiences tend to bestow ‘truth’ upon that old Jarhead adage.

      Ending with less tempered but more inflammatory words, I dare say Charter Schools/home schooling hardly provide solutions to the behavior under discussion or real learning absorbed by students.

  5. Racism is ignorance. One way to “nip it in the bud” is through education. Have the offending students attend a game at Sheldon, in a ‘special seating’ area. When they can see, hear and feel actual hate, they may learn how toxic this is in their own community. To see this on TV makes me feel ashamed for NU.

  6. Maybe NU should have Bill Drake come in and discuss his book. I do not remember the exact number but it is in the 90% range of Nevada County being white. This doesn’t necessarily mean racism but it does mean those who grow up here have very little interaction with Asians, Chicano’s, Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Indians, Arabs, Persians, Pacific Islanders, or any people of color. Hopefully they do leave the county for a little time to gain the experience of diversity. The diversity that isn’t shown in news coverage or movies where most of their experiences with people of color has come from up until this point in their young lives.

    Almost Hereditary: A White Southerner’s Journey out of Racism.http://almosthereditaryunlearningprejudice.com/
    excerpt from the website

    “Almost Hereditary is written for young people as well as adults. It is important for young people to avoid or discard the burden of prejudice and hatred that our society has carried for too long, both for their own sakes and for the sake of our country and our world. Dealing with this issue can be easier early in life since we tend to have fewer prejudices and be more open-minded when we are young.”

  7. Great idea, Ben. I just got Bill Drake’s book and though I have only skimmed through it thus far, it should be required reading for all students in this county!

  8. NU should withdraw from the tournament. A harsh result for the players I know, but an educational experience for those who engaged in such shameful behavior and I can assure you the players and student body will know who is to blame and who to shun.

    1. We need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that punishment is in any way a productive response to racism, and certainly punishment aimed at those who didn’t participate. That’s scapegoating. There are evidence based (meaning that results can be verified) strategies that will act to reduce racism, and punishment is not one of them. There is a larger problem of bullying at NU that this would be a part of that desperately needs to be addressed as well. A reading and discussion of Bill Drake’s book sounds like a reasonable idea.

    2. John,
      That wouldn’t be a good idea or fair in any way shape or form. Players had nothing to do with it. Those players have given 4 years of their lives in many cases to NU basketball and this is what they have been working towards. Playoff performance can be the difference between a college asking you to play for their program or not and if a scholarship is offered. If you want to ban all students from attending that is even unfair but would send the message. I think what I have suggested above a mandatory two or three different workshops with the entire student body possibly as grade levels on racism and sexism would be a good addition to the schools curriculum. Having a trained counselor come in for a week a couple times a year and work with all the students.

      1. You’ve brought up some great points, Ben. We were discussing something along those lines today at lunch. Also included would be how to act accordingly while being taunted.

      2. Exactly Chris,
        Teaching good character in our young adults is a huge step in the correct direction. With media literally at our kids finger tips all day long and parents working more hours than in generations past that judgement of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable is being blurred. Teachers, coaches, and so on are becoming even more important role models than ever before but they are actually under attack more these days. I am glad to hear it was being discussed.

      3. Ben: A strong call to boycott the Sochi Olympics was made in this country and I believe that was the correct approach. The United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 over the objections that the players were unfairly punished. You are making the same argument here. , If NU does not make amends for this conduct who else can? Perhaps if NU offers to withdraw the persons who engaged in this conduct will come forward and make some other offer that makes sense.

      4. I’m not sure the knee-jerk, poor judgment of a couple of adolescent boys at a high school girls basketball game equates with the Cold War politics of the time. I am told the alleged perpetrators cannot attend any more games.

  9. So glad I grew up in a highly diverse town with a demographic of below poverty level to upper middle class. Our high school naturally reflected this diversity in its student body. Interacting on a daily basis with Latinos, Blacks, native escapees from the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, Jews of which many families had lost a large percentage of their relatives in the Holocost, a plurality of mostly 2nd generation Italians and various species of WASPS. This is the most effective education, IMO, which teaches youth to become friendly with the “Others.” Such an environment also teaches that there are bad apples with green, red, dappled, freckled, etc., skins.

    Our high school was 10 through 12 grades. While a sophomore, early in the semester, some dude was messing with me, so when the bell rang I turned around and messed with him. His buddy, a senior and Black came to his rescue, said “Hit me.” So I started to, but his quick hands connected to my left eye first. I went down, but popped back up in an instant, but the teacher was there by then. Eventually we became friendly. The lesson learned is some black kids I liked and vice versa and this was true with the Italians, Jews, Caucasians, Martians; whomever. Learning by doing (mingling everyday) has real teeth compared to teaching tolerance in, say, Nevada County as it was in the 1960’s and those you had to tolerate were merely reflections of one’s self. ‘Tis why I chuckle at the long time locals who are so proud they have lived here all — or most — of their lives. I feel sorry for them, as they missed out on a ton of valuable, everyday, living experiences. Perhaps that is why so many of them, such as dragon breath, ooze a miasma of unpleasant vibes, intolerant attitudes, seemingly wishing all current residents whom weren’t in their graduating class of, maybe, 75 students, go back where they came from, taking their worldly and progressive ideas with them. To so many, those ideas are just liter, like broken beer bottles along side highway 49.

  10. Ben E. wrote:
    “With media literally at our kids finger tips all day long and parents working more hours than in generations past that judgement of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable is being blurred. ”
    This is another interesting point. I would say ‘yes and no’. As Jeff P. points out, “the internet is changing how we communicate”. This is definitely true. Kids today have much more exposure to the world than past generations in alot of respects. The issue (and we’re struggling as to how to deal with this) is to teach kids how to work with the information that is out there and to discern fact from fiction. Also, how to be critical of what they read and be able to do valid research.

    The mood on campus with the students was one of anger. Anger that it happened. Anger over the media coverage (which they perceived as being one sided which lead to interesting discussions of ‘bad press’**). Anger that the actions of a couple of kids taints the whole school and community.

    We definitely need to educate our students better in matters such as this. Discussions abound!

    **by KCRA. not locally.

    1. Yes, Chris, the Internet is changing how we communicate, and research/learn. I think a whole new branch of problem learner specialists is sprouting: Wikipediatrics which will attempt to drive home the difference between ‘original research, such as it exists in high school and merely printing pages from the Internet when completing a report or paper.

  11. I agree Chris,
    Above I mentioned “Being immature and trying to be funny can get ugly sometimes and I think this is one of those times. My guess like usual the vast majority of students didn’t participate in the bad behavior.”

    1. This pretty much nails it. What we need to teach(besides not using inflammatory language) is to be the better person and not get sucked into provocation, real or imagined.

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