Illinois state championship game marred by accusations of racism

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally

If the accusations that at least one Harrisburg (Ill.) High player used racial slurs during an Illinois boys basketball state championship game are true, these won't exactly be the glory days the Bulldogs had hoped for in the aftermath of their title victory.

As first reported in great detail by the Chicago Tribune, and since followed upon by ABC affiliate WSIL and other local outlets, the ugliness first boiled over when, after a 50-44 loss to Harrisburg in Saturday's 2A final, South Holland (Ill.) Seton Academy coach Brandon Thomas and his team boycotted the runner-up trophy presentation. Criticized for poor sportsmanship, Thomas' actions were instead a response to what many in the Chicago suburb have claimed is racism aimed toward his team.

At least one member of the Harrisburg boys basketball team has been accused of using racial slurs during the team's Illinois state title victory --
At least one member of the Harrisburg boys basketball team has been accused of using racial slurs during the team's Illinois state title victory --
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"It started in the beginning of the game with racial words, like 'Get off me, (N-word),'" Seton assistant Art Kimber told the Tribune. "It happened so many times that I wasn't keeping track anymore. … It got so bad that every single time that they tried to complain to the referees, they were told, 'Do not talk to me or I will give you a technical.'"

While his team held an eight-point lead with 2:05 left in the first half, Seton star Mark Weems Jr. earned his second technical foul for making contact with a referee, according to the Tribune. Because he had already received a tech for complaining to an official in the first half, he was ejected from the game, and Seton subsequently lost by six points.

Referees also handed out a first-half technical foul to a Harrisburg player and a warning to Bulldogs coach Randy Smithpeters for arguing a call. Things got so bad that Illinois High School Association officials nearly canceled the game at halftime, according to the Tribune.

"(We) expressed our concerns to the schools about what had occurred in the first half, including three technical fouls, a player ejection and a bench warning," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman told the Tribune. "At that time, Seton Academy also expressed concerns over the use of racial slurs. The onus was put on the coaches to provide the necessary leadership to change the tenor of the game. We also made it very clear that if things did not change, we would take the unprecedented step of canceling the game."

That's where accounts appear to diverge, according to the Seton (via the Tribune) and Harrisburg (via ABC affiliate WSIL and other outlets) views of the incident. Kimber claimed officials "failed" to gain control in the second half, a claim which led to the governing body opening an investigation into the incident.

While the IHSA has yet to offer an official ruling on the event, Thomas has already been suspended, which seems a bit drastic before all the facts are in.

In the meantime, the Tribune did a terrific job of uncovering a series of other unfortunate incidents and allegations intertwined with the game, all of which you can read about here.

Meanwhile, Harrisburg Community School District superintendent Dennis Smith came out in support of the player accused of hurling the racial epithets, who just so happens to be "on a long-planned vacation" two-plus weeks before his school's spring break.

"We're saying wait a minute," Smith told WSIL. "I mean we've got a great group of kids. They worked on this for four years.

"It's not fair. It's not right, it demeans our kids for things that that they didn't do. ... We know these kids away from the camera and away from the reporters. They are taking this hard."

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