CHARLES CITY — Jeremiah Chapman is used to run-of-the-mill trash talk that comes with the territory of playing an away game.
A four-sport athlete who just finished his junior year at Charles City High School, Chapman thought that’s all it would be during a June 27 varsity baseball game at Waverly-Shell Rock High School, when the bleacher section behind the outfield started getting rowdy and calling out to his teammate, Hunter Sullivan, in left field.
“ ‘Number 17, you’re garbage,’ ” Chapman remembered people in the stands shouting at his teammate. “I said, ‘Hunter, just ignore it.’ ”
The next inning, the Waverly-Shell Rock fans turned on Chapman, playing center field. At first, it was the usual taunting of Chapman’s jersey number, 4.
But then, Chapman — the only Black player on Charles City’s team — heard much worse.
“They called me Colin — I assumed they were just calling me Colin Kaepernick,” after the former Black NFL quarterback who knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality. “Then, after I caught a ball, they said, ‘You need to go back to the fields to do your job.’ ”
Sullivan missed a pop fly after that, prompting the section to return to taunting him, telling him to “leave left field.”
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Chapman finally looked at who was taunting his teammate, and the group of people — he’s not sure if it was students or adults — turned their ire back at Chapman.
“They looked at me and said, ‘You should have been George Floyd,’ ” the Minneapolis man killed by a police officer. “Then they started chanting ‘Trump 2020.’ ”
Chapman talked to the umpire at the inning break, who asked Chapman if he wanted to stop the game. Chapman shook his head and kept playing, swallowing his emotion.
“It hurt a lot,” Chapman said, noting it’s only the second time he’s experienced racist name-calling at a baseball game. “I didn’t try to show it during the game because I didn’t want to seem like a punk.”
Both the Charles City and Waverly-Shell Rock school districts are addressing the issue, which Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher said has been investigated and “corroborated” by multiple sources.
“The overwhelming evidence was it absolutely happened,” Fisher said, noting it “unfortunately” wasn’t the first time racial remarks have been heard at away games.
Waverly-Shell Rock High School put a statement on its Facebook page saying the district “fully acknowledge” the remarks happened. Administrators there were not immediately available for comment Thursday but noted they were continuing to investigate.
“This behavior is unacceptable. We make no excuses, because there are none,” the Waverly-Shell Rock post said. “We do, however, wish to make a sincere apology to the Charles City school district and community and, in particular, the young man towards whom these comments were directed.”
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Fisher, also the Charles City High School principal and athletic director, said he has been in “leadership discussions” with Waverly-Shell Rock leaders to “discuss this and how to move forward.”
“This isn’t about them. This is something that happens pervasively in society that students of color have to deal with everywhere,” he said. “Waverly has been dealing with it to the best of their ability.”
Fisher said he has reached out to leaders at the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, asking for further guidance on racial incidents at athletic events statewide.
“We cannot continue to operate this way,” Fisher said. “It’s a common occurrence, and we need to shine a light and do better.”
For his part, Chapman said he has been debating whether to continue with football, basketball, track and baseball in his last year of high school.
But he said he believes his teammates and coaches were “all by my side.”
That includes Hunter Sullivan, who he said retorted to the inappropriate remarks in the moment, something Chapman appreciated.
“I try my hardest to fit in,” Chapman said. “Now that I know that not everybody is gonna like me for who I am ... I’m just a person like you. It’s hard that people aren’t able to accept me.
“I don’t want to quit on my sports because of this.”