Iowa high school plans to start own conference after player subjected to racist jeers

Cassandra Negley
·3 min read

An Iowa high school is planning to leave its athletics conference and start its own following racist jeers directed at a Black baseball player this past spring.

Charles City High School will try to leave the Northeast Iowa Conference within two years and it has already received support and interest from other schools to join its new one, the Iowa Des Moines Register reported.

High school outfielder subject of racist taunts

Charles City Comets outfielder Jeremiah Chapman, who is Black, was the target of racist remarks during a June 27 game at Waverly-Shell Rock’s home field. He said he was called “Colin,” in reference to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. When he caught a fly ball, per the Register, fans shouted at him to “Go back to the fields!”

Chapman said fans told him he should have been George Floyd, the Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis in May. And they later shouted “Trump 2020” at the high school baseball game.

His family told the Chicago Tribune it hopes the incident sparks rule changes addressing jeering in sports. Chapman’s mother, Keisha Cunnings, who moved the family from Chicago to Iowa before he entered first grade, told the Tribune the event was “traumatic.”

“I am worried. Is he going to be on edge for every event? It’s easy to say, ‘This is what happens and you have to move past it,’ but he’s 17. He’s not an adult. He’s not used to this.

“He just wants to be accepted. One of his football coaches checked in on him, and he said, ‘All my life I’ve been trying to fit in, and this is a reminder I’ll never fit in.’”

School asks to not play opponent after racist taunting

Baseball in glove laying on pitcher's mound of ball field.
An Iowa school plans to leave its athletic conference after a "pattern" of unsportsmanlike conduct by another team. (Getty Images)

In July, Charles City and its school superintendent, Mike Fisher, requested a one-year break from playing games against the Waverly-Shell Rock Go-Hawks. Fisher told the Register he made the request due to a “pattern of unsportsmanlike behavior” and asked for a plan on how the opponent will improve its sportsmanship. He did not name the school in the letter submitted to the conference.

Other schools also expressed frustration and concern about Waverly-Shell Rock. The Register reported that the school finished last in the conference’s “sportsmanship championship” ratings every year from the first in 2008 to the latest available in 2017.

School elects to leave conference

Charles City formed a task force of students, coaches, staff members, principals and alumni after the racist taunts in June to decide if the school should remain in the conference.

On Monday night, the task force recommended it leave the group within two years, per the Register.

“It was a spark, and it definitely weighted the conversation," Fisher said of the incident involving Chapman, who was a member of the task force. “But that, in and of itself, would likely not be the only factor. It really just started the longer dialogue that this has been historical. This has been a continued issue.

“There was a consistent pattern with a partner school that was brought up.”

At least 10 schools have already been contacted about joining the new conference, Fisher said, and they have “shared values that have focus on character.” All but one is interested.

The Charles City school board has the final say on leaving the conference. It expects to hear a formal recommendation within a few months, per the Register.

Iowa was the first state to restart high school baseball and softball games during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another school in the state reportedly experienced slurs directed at Latino students and families during a softball game played the same day as Charles City’s.

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