Story at a glance
- Two California high schools played a rivalry game on Tuesday when students began chanting “Where’s your passport?” at international players.
- Staff from St. Joseph believes that the students weren’t aware of what they were saying.
- Two anonymous sources told local outlets that this racist commentary runs deep on both sides.
A competitive high school basketball game in California hit a low point when a group of one team's fans began chanting “Where’s your passport?” at the rival team, which has a roster that includes a player from France and three from Puerto Rico. (Residents of Puerto Rico are US citizens, so passports are just as unnecessary as they would be for residents of any state.)
Kind of a disappointing ending to a good game as the visiting student section chanted “where’s your passport?”, apparently at SJHS players. Administrators from both schools exchanged words. There was a charged atmosphere throughout the contest. #santamariatimes pic.twitter.com/xCQU7J5INA— Joe Bailey (@JBaileySMSports) February 12, 2020
The two Santa Maria high schools, St. Joseph, a private school, and Righetti, a public school, played each other on Tuesday evening at St. Joseph’s campus. It was a home victory, with St. Joseph ultimately winning 74-57, according to the Santa Maria Times.
As players and coaches walked parallel to high-five each other, the Righetti student section in the gym erupted in a crowd chant of “where’s your passport?” at the top of their lungs.
St. Joseph Head Coach Tom Mott has reportedly recruited players from all over the world to play at the private school. This falls outside of California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) bylaws, which St. Joseph, a member school, must abide by.
With that context, the chant was quickly seen as derogatory, nationalistic and racist.
The principal of St. Joseph, Erinn Dougherty, rushed toward the Righetti students once the chanting began and confronted Righetti’s Assistant Principal Ted Lyon before being led away by a friend.
Mott told the Santa Maria Times on Wednesday that he did not think the chant was meant to be racist, although he understands how it can be interpreted as such.
“I honestly think they were unaware they said a racist thing," Mott told reporters. "They did not intend for it to be racist.”
He further clarified that he and the Righetti coach, Kevin Barbarick, remain on good terms and that upon reviewing the video, Mott sensed that “Barbarick did try to stop the students from chanting as he was coaching the final seconds of the game.”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the governing body over St. Joseph, stated that they are "disappointed" at what occurred on Tuesday night and the school has a zero-tolerance policy toward "inappropriate statements made at any students."
"We hope that this can be a lesson in sportsmanship and mutual respect for students from both schools," the Archdiocese Director of Media Relations Adrian Alarcon concluded.
Likewise, Principal Dougherty says she “loves and respects the students” of the entire surrounding community, and that the Righetti students “were just good kids who didn’t realize what they were saying.”
A second article discussing the incident, however, featured the testimonies of two anonymous Righetti students who said that remarks like these are not uncommon — but that students from St. Joseph participate as well.
In a note sent to the Santa Maria Times, one student alleges that St Joseph students “were chanting at our student section that we would be filling them up with gas in the future, so we shot back with our chant, it's simple trash talk," and that, "They were also throwing their own racist remarks at us before our chant. They were yelling 'where's your green card' at Righetti."
This corroborates Dougherty’s stance that this was not an isolated incident, telling reporters she’d heard rumors about this behavior before Tuesday’s game.
Santa Maria Joint Union School District is investigating the matter for Righetti, but have no jurisdiction over St. Joseph because it is a private school. Regardless, Kenny Klein, a school district spokesperson, said in a statement that officials “are aware of the unacceptable comments exchanged from both sides of the basketball court.”