Annual “Black and White” scrimmage cancelled over racism fears

Cameron Smith

Nearly every high school in the country plays a much ballyhooed intrasquad scrimmage (some play more than one, in both the spring and summer). Nearly all of those scrimmages follow the traditional college football naming model of pitting one of the school's colors against another.

Alta's football team

That's always been the case at Alta (Utah) High, too, where the Hawks' summer game has always been called the Black and White game. That's not the case anymore, after the school pulled the plug on the traditional name for the 2011 season, citing racial tensions at the school as motivation to abandon the long-held official name.

As explained in great depth by Deseret News columnist Randy Hollis, there is a run of recent events that inspired the sudden end to the Black and White game. In March, an Alta student showed up at a school "Spirit Bowl" assembly with a Ku Klux Klan-style white pillowcase on his head, with only eyeholes cut into it.

Yet that student -- who was later suspended for his pillowcase outfit -- claimed he came up with the idea for the pillowcase as an attempt to help his class wear more of its designated color (which was white) than any other grade. Given that students also chanted both "White power" and "Black power" at the assembly without any noticeable hint of irony or sense of historical influence, it's entirely possible the student was telling the truth, too.

Eventually, a spate of other racial incidents added to that first spark in encouraging school officials to change the name of the annual game. Three different students were suspended in early April after a racial slurs were used at one of the school's basketball games, photos of a burning cross and KKK garb were texted to students of color and one nasty off-campus fight broke out between a black and white student.

Without doubt, all of those issues are significant and legitimate concerns. Whether they are justification for ending a long running school tradition at a place where a majority of students -- regardless of color -- chant freely about black and white power is another matter entirely.

While Alta athletic director Morgan Brown refused to disagree with the decision to end the officially named Black and White game, he did stand up for the school in general in comments to the Deseret News.

"Alta's a good school," he said. "And I don't think Alta High has had any more problems (racial or otherwise) than any other school.

"Hey, this is our annual scrimmage game, and you can call it whatever you want. But we're still gonna play it and give those kids an opportunity to receive some recognition on Saturday night."

The issue is simply that, for the first time in memory, that game won't be the Black and White game. That in itself is a shame, both for Alta students and what it says about someone; either the students themselves or the administrators who don't trust them enough.

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