Updated 3/19/21 – 10:50 a.m.
Arlington Public Schools (APS) officials accused Statesman varsity football players of using racial slurs during a fight at a recent game. The incident sparked controversy and larger concerns of a cultural issue at Marshall and within the athletic program.
After a failed conversion on 4th-and-24 secured Marshall’s narrow 19-18 victory against Wakefield High School on March 5, players exchanged words that resulted in a brawl at the 35-yard-line.
In a written statement, Wakefield Principal Chris Willmore said Marshall players directed racial slurs, including the N-word, at Wakefield players. A Marshall team member also spat on a Wakefield player, he said.
“The administrative team and I are outraged by the blatant acts of racism our players were subjected to during the game and that the officials did nothing to intervene despite our urging and even after our coaches signaled them to the behavior multiple times,” Willmore said.
The issue became public late Wednesday night, when senior Wakefield wide receiver Lukai Hatcher posted a video of the fight on his Instagram. In the post, Hatcher detailed the fight, saying “Marshall High School’s athletic teams have been known to demonstrate a culture of racism and unsportsmanlike behavior.”
APS officials, including Superintendent Francisco Durán, made public statements about the incident, which acting principal Augie Frattali addressed in a community email and public address Friday.
“Please know that we have taken this situation very seriously and are in direct contact with Fairfax County Public School’s Region 2 office and the Office of Equity and Employee Relations,” Frattali said in his email. “We have done an intensive investigation into this situation and appropriate actions were taken against individuals by the Virginia High School League from both schools..”
Willmore said in his statement he has been in close contact with Director of Student Activities Joe Swarm and Frattali over the last two weeks.
Frattali said he is working with Willmore to “ensure that there will be an opportunity for the students to join together to discuss their actions and develop a plan moving forward.”
In his PA address, Frattrali encouraged Marshall students to reach out to trusted adults if they had concerns.
“The bottom line is we are Statesmen,” he said.
Varsity players told Rank&File the team’s coaching staff instructed them not to comment.
However, Marshall Running Backs Coach Douglas Young said “Curious about the racist culture given the fact that Marshall’s [Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, Linebackers, Running Backs, Defensive Backs, and Wide Receivers] coaches are all BLACK,” in a comment on Hatcher’s Instagram post. The comment was later deleted.
Most students reacted negatively to the post.
“Racism has been displayed by multiple individuals [at] Marshall, but not many people speak but about their personal experiences,” sophomore Riley Ulrich said. “It was really brave of the people who spoke up. [This event] sets a bad example because the people who are supposed to represent our school are the ones spreading the hate.”
Junior George Luketic acknowledged the possibility of a racism issue at Marshall, but said he does not see the event as serious.
“Racism is 100 percent a problem in America and maybe even in our school,” Luketic said. “I personally haven’t seen anyone in our school do anything racist, but I’m only speaking for myself. The incident at the football game is not indicative of racism because there was no evidence. It’s clear to me that the Wakefield player got into a fight and then played the victim card. I’ve consulted with all my friends on the football team and all of them said no one was doing anything racist.”
Some Marshall students took to social media to condem the players’ actions Thursday morning, including senior Kendall Hymes, who commented on the instagram post to show support with the Wakefield players. Hymes mentioned personal experience in dealing with racism at Marshall.
“There have been times where I have spoken out about racist actions and words,” Hymes said. “I always get responses like ‘that was so minor’ [or] ‘you are getting upset over nothing,’ which really makes me upset because it feels like my problems aren’t valid.”
Hymes said she believes a lack of accountability is the cause of recent racist incidents.
“Because Marshall is a generally progressive school in a progressive environment, casual racism often gets looked over because ‘we aren’t as bad as other places,’” Hymes said. “I think this mindset is what enables kids to think that their racist actions can slide, and they have been successful with that hopefully until now. This may have been an isolated event, but the lack of accountability that these students has had in the past enabled this to happen, and maybe if the school took action with these kids during prior allegations, this might have been avoided.”