SNELLVILLE, Ga. — Black student athletes, who've been succeeding and thriving in what has been a sport attracting mostly white players, are now also shocked and disheartened.
Black players on Brookwood High School’s Varsity Girls lacrosse team said people in the stands shouted a racist slur at them at Wednesday night’s playoff game at Cherokee High School.
But on Thursday, Brookwood students and their coach discovered Cherokee doesn’t believe them.
It is a dispute that quickly spread past the playing field into the highest reaches of the two school districts’ administrations.
Brookwood High School’s Varsity Girl’s lacrosse team had a successful 2022 season, and made it into the state playoffs. Their student-athletes have expressed pride in the team’s successes, and in their diversity in what has been a sport of predominantly white athletes.
At the playoff game at Cherokee High School, Brookwood players reported on Instagram that they heard "audience members screaming the n-word at our players."
They described it as "heartbreaking," and they said “Cherokee High School failed to handle this issue and allowed the fans to remain in the stands.”
Brookwood Assistant Coach Jason Jones, who is Black, wrote he heard the slurs, too.
"My young, African American queens were called racial slurs (the N-word) .... A group of young men from the stands yelled out racial slurs to my girls," Jones wrote.
Both school districts investigated.
By Thursday afternoon, Cherokee High School’s principal Rodney Larrotta wrote to Cherokee parents that no one interviewed in his investigation reported hearing any racial slurs.
"None of the allegations have been substantiated," Larrotta wrote. "Many of the social media statements have been made by people who were not present at the game."
Brookwood High School’s principal, William Bo Ford, then wrote to Brookwood parents that several of their students and an assistant principal who were at the game did hear the racial slur.
Ford called it "an intolerable incident," "hurtful" and "unacceptable."
Jones wrote that right after the game, Cherokee’s coach and principal each walked up to him and apologized about the incident. According to Jones, Cherokee’s coach told him "I'm sorry. Things of that nature never happen around here," and then walked away.
However, Cherokee’s official stance now is that the coach and principal did not hear the slur and they can’t find anyone besides Brookwood students and coaches who heard it. For now, as far as they’re concerned, the case is closed.
No one has posted any video of the incident on social media yet.
Brookwood’s principal said Thursday that whatever comes of this, he hopes everyone can still focus on celebrating the student-athletes and all they’ve accomplished this season.
Here are letters the principals wrote to the parents of their schools on Thursday.
From Cherokee High School's principal:
Dear Warrior families and community,
As many of you are aware, during the girls’ lacrosse game last night against Brookwood High School, some allegations were made regarding the use of racial slurs by someone in our student section. As soon as the game was stopped by the officials, the CHS administration proceeded to interview parents and students, including a parent from Brookwood who was in the proximity of our student section. None of the spectators could confirm any of the allegations. The CHS administration approached the Brookwood administrator on duty, as well as the coaching staff, to hear their concerns and collect all the information to properly investigate this matter further.
Today, the administration at CHS spent several hours interviewing coaches, players, other spectators and students who were present at the game; none reported hearing any racial slurs. In addition, CHS contacted the Brookwood administration to provide an update on the findings and details. At this time, none of the allegations have been substantiated. Many of the social media statements have been made by people who were not present at the game. If any evidence that confirms such allegations is found, we will address it appropriately. Cherokee High School and the Cherokee County School District do not tolerate the use of racial slurs by anyone on our campuses.
Cherokee High School
From Brookwood High School's principal:
Dear Brookwood High School Families,
As you know the mental and physical safety of our students and staff is a top priority at Brookwood High School, one we take very seriously. With that in mind, I want to let you know about an intolerable incident that happened Wednesday night at Cherokee High School.
During the second half of our girls’ lacrosse team state playoff game, several players and one of our assistant principals heard someone in the Cherokee High stands direct a racial slur at our players.
Let me be clear, this type of behavior is not only hurtful, it is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I have been in contact with the principal and athletic director at Cherokee High, and they have conducted their investigation. While they have informed me they cannot confirm this occurred, I must advocate for our students, coaches, parents, and community and make it clear that we feel the environment was hostile and believe racial slurs were used during the second half of the competition.
It is extremely disappointing that someone would use racist language to attack a group of student-athletes because of the color of their skin. These young women should be celebrated for their competitive spirit on and off the field.
As always, I thank you for your support of our students and school.
William Bo Ford, Jr.