Racially insensitive masks at middle school basketball game cause Indiana uproar

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A disturbing incident at a middle school basketball game in southeastern Indiana has forced school district officials to apologize to the NAACP for the behavior of its students.

Parents of Parkview basketball players who were offended by students masks attended a hearing about the incident — Associated Press
Parents of Parkview basketball players who were offended by students masks attended a hearing about the incident — Associated Press

As reported by the Associated Press and News & Tribune, among other sources, students from Floyd County (Ind.) Highland Hills Middle School wore gorilla and President Obama masks to a game against Floyd County (Ind.) Parkland Middle School on a spirit night when students were encouraged to wear black to the game. The fact that Highland Hills’ team was entirely white and Parkland’s squad included African American players added a disturbing layer of racial insensitivity to the incident.

“I really do think most of our kids emulate what they see on the college scene,” Highland Hills principal Steve Griffin told the News & Tribune. “If you watch that, there’s all kinds of different costumes that are worn in any college game. I really think our kids were trying to emulate what they were seeing on TV more than anything. I don’t think the kids themselves consciously thought about trying to offend someone, they were just trying to be goofy.”

Griffin acted quickly after the incident, calling the parents of the students who wore Obama and gorilla masks to explain why they were deemed inappropriate and drafting up new policies for spirit days in conjunction with the school’s guidance counselors. Those school counselors will also hold diversity awareness sessions for students throughout the school, which contains grades 5 through 8.

While those new guidelines should protect Highland Hills from future racially-tinged incidents -- albeit likely at the cost of elaborate costumes -- it didn’t go far enough for the parents of some of the Parkland players who were appalled at the Highland Hills’ crowd’s behavior.

“It seemed like a whole cheering section right in back of our basketball team that either had on black nylon masks, they had on Obama masks and a bunch of gorillas and monkeys,'' Lisa Barnett, whose son plays for Parkview told the News & Tribune. ''I couldn't focus on the game because of these masks behind our boys.”

Thanks in part to those concerns, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. school board members reached out to the NAACP’s affiliate in New Albany, letting them know that Highland Hills would write an official letter of apology for the incident.

It’s apparently hoped by both the NAACP and the New Albany-Floyd County district that the letter could serve as a final salvo to the distasteful incident, though only time will tell if the Parkview parents and students can be at peace with a simple letter accounting for an ugly incident.

''I do believe most people were satisfied with what they heard,'' NAACP branch president Nicole Yates told the AP after a public meeting about the incident. ''It is no secret that it has been in the past that African Americans are referred to as gorillas or anything, monkeys and what have you. And so it was offensive and it was offensive to a lot of people, a lot of parents.''

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