For the second time this school year, Ames school officials are responding to complaints that Ames students misbehaved at an athletic event by using racially insensitive language.
This time it was at Tuesday night’s girls’ soccer game against Marshalltown.
Marshalltown coach Leigh Hornbuckle said some of his players told him about the comments that came from the Ames student section during the first half. Hornbuckle was on the opposite sideline so did not hear the comments firsthand, but said the comments were made toward Marshalltown’s goalkeeper.
Hornbuckle said when he heard about the comments, he told the referee.
The referee went to the pressbox to get an administrator to deal with the complaint. Ames athletic director Judge Johnston spoke with the referee and then went down to talk to the students at halftime.
Hornbuckle said that according to his players, Ames students were calling out to his team’s goalie, saying “ ‘Quit blocking the ball, quit blocking the ball,’ and like, ‘What?’ ... ‘She can’t understand you,’ ‘Oh, wait, hang on, Hola,’ ” which means hello in Spanish.
“Even subtle like that, still, it’s racially motivated,” Hornbuckle said.
Marshalltown’s goalie is not Hispanic, but most of the team’s players are. Hispanics account for about 29 percent of the town’s population, according to U.S. census data.
Hornbuckle said although the comment may seem like “simple, insignificant stuff,” it’s “insensitive, so it’s just ridiculous.”
“There’s no place for it nowadays, honestly,” Hornbuckle said.
Marshalltown player Itzel Hueso said she heard the Ames students make the comment once when the Bobcats’ goalie caught the ball.
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“They’re like, ‘Goalie, stop catching the ball,’ and then one of them said, ‘Oh, they don’t understand you,’ and then I heard, ‘Oh, never mind, hola,’ ” Hueso said.
On Wednesday, Ames school officials released a statement addressing the reports that some Ames students were making “racist remarks toward Marshalltown athletes.
“These comments are unacceptable,” the statement read.
Ames school officials said in the statement that they are continuing to investigate the incident.
“During the game, we reached out to the Marshalltown coaching staff to get more information and to offer an apology,” the statement read. “But apologies are not enough. In addition to addressing this with specific students, we are also proactively developing plans to directly work with students and the athletic department on the importance of being critically conscious, developing the skill set to engage and interact thoughtfully with others, and to understand how their behavior impacts others.”
In February, the district released a similar statement after there were complaints that some Ames students were making racial chants during the Ames-Des Moines North substate finals basketball game. An email exchange between Johnston and a person named Catum Whitfield described Ames students making “monkey/gorilla grunts” when black players were shooting free throws.
In his response, Johnston wrote that Ames students were making “barking noises.”
The Iowa High School Athletic Association handbook identifies specific conduct at school sporting events that is unacceptable and that can be punished.
Some of these behaviors include profanity, offensive remarks, jumping up and down on the bleachers, and even chants or cheers directed at opponents.
Ames Tribune sports writer Hayes Gardner contributed to this story.