Reports of Confederate flag display, racial slurs during football game puts Colorado schools at odds

DENVER – Two Colorado high school football teams clashed both on and off the field after one accused the other of using racial and sexist slurs during a game Friday evening.

Manual High School, who was hosting the Weld Central High School Rebels, also accused the team of allowing the display of a Confederate flag during the Friday night game. 

On Saturday, Denver Public Schools officials released a statement saying Weld Central High School fans brought a Confederate flag to their home game at Manual High School, but Weld Central High School officials told Denver7 they did not see such thing happen. 

DPS and administrators from Manual High School said the flag was only the beginning of confrontations throughout the game.

“We asked those fans to remove the flag,” said DPS deputy superintendent Susana Corva. “I think, unfortunately, that set tensions both on and off the field.”

Tavon Toliver, who has a son that plays for Manual High School, told Denver7 the allegations were true. 

“They flew their Confederate flags, and laughed at us and used racial slurs,” Toliver said. 

Denver7 spoke with Weld Central High School’s assistant principal and Weld County Public School’s athletic director Scott Richardson about the alleged incident.

“I didn't see any Confederate flags, and I asked the coaches and they said they didn't see any flags,” Richardson said. “If we did see it, we would have asked our fans to put it away because we banned the flags.”

One Manual High School football player’s parents said she heard racial slurs coming from the opposing team’s fan section.

“I could hear them using racial slurs,” said Roxann Carter. “But as you get older you develop a thicker skin.”

Carter’s daughter plays on the Manual High School football team. She said her daughter had to deal with more than just a display of the Confederate flag. 

“She said the players called her the B-word and they called her a monkey,” Carter said.

In the statement sent by DPS, district officials also said some of their players reported being tackled and taunted with racial slurs coming from the Weld Central team. 

Richardson said he will address the team about these accusations.

“These things, whether they happened or not, our players need to know it’s not acceptable and there’s no place at Weld Central for these things,” Richardson said.

In the end, both districts said they want the same thing for all students.

“We want them to feel safe and comfortable and enjoy their experience at our high school,” Richardson said. “If we’re doing what [the team is accused of] to another school then that’s not acceptable.”

DPS and Richardson said the districts will be speaking with each other about the alleged incident.

Nick Dawkins, the principal of Manual High School, sent out a letter to the community about the incident.

“I spoke with on of the team’s coaches at the game and I am following up with their high school principal,” Dawkins wrote. “Such symbols of racism and hatred, and racial slurs, ought to have no place in athletics or in any part of our students’ experiences. We are all very concerned about what occurred and are trying to gather as much information as we can so we can determine the next steps.”

“Anytime we have a school district that contacts us and says ‘this is what went on in the game and these are the things that we are hearing,’ we definitely sit our players down and address them,” Richardson said. “I hope none of this actually happened."

On Sunday, Weld County School District Re-3J officials released their own statement following, flat out denying the accusations.  

School officials said Weld Central High School was, "unfairly represented with what appears to be significantly inaccurate information presented to the Manual community and the media. The facts as we know them today do not support the claims reported by Manual officials."

Weld County School District Superintendent Greg Rabenhorst also said in the statement that video recording of the game contained no signs of a Confederate flag. "Further, we have no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior on or off the field."

Rabenhorst added that they have also "unilaterally cancelled future competitions with Manual High School until further notice." 

School officials said they would continue to conduct their investigation into the allegations and discipline those who may have acted beneath the standards and expectations of the student code of conduct. 

"In the event any accusations are substantiated, we as a district will take full responsibility in condemning such behavior and disciplining students as appropriate," Kenney said. 

The Colorado High School Activities Association's Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann also commented on the allegations saying, "We continue to encourage the dialog that has already occurred between the two schools and hope they can use this in the best educational manner. If what has been reported happened, this is completely unacceptable. We are aware of the situation and will work with the schools as our assistance is requested. I am sure that both schools will approach this from an educational aspect."

Weld County school already on the spotlight 

The high school, located in the small town of Keenesburg, has been the center of attention and its mascot has been the subject of much debate following nationwide discourse over what to do with Confederate monuments. 

Like many rebel symbols now being re-examined, the community chose its mascot, the Weld Central Rebel, during desegregation and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The mascot was frequently paired with a Confederate flag.

"I don't know that it's been a symbol of the Confederacy. That's certainly not the image that it is today," said Rabenhorst. "The district doesn't view it as that."

So the school has taken it upon itself to re-brand the Rebel into a more modern-looking soldier, and was soon to get be update on the school's website page. 

This is not the first controversy over a Confederate-themed mascot in Colorado. Students at Denver South High School are also called the "Rebels," but they successfully lobbied to have the mascot changed from a Confederate soldier to a mythological griffin in 2009.

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