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Elder and St. X use February incident to teach sportsmanship, respect

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By Eileen Connelly, OSU

Administrators, faculty, and students at two area high schools are moving forward and using the racial slurs shouted during a February basketball game as a teachable moment. The incident involved students from Elder High School’s cheering section taunting St. Xavier athletes. 

     In addition to disciplinary action taken against the Elder students, changes were made in the school’s cheering section, said Principal Kurt Ruffing. They include creating a first row consisting of only cheerleaders approved by Student Council moderators, who then guide others through appropriate cheers. 

     “One of the things I’ve said during our assemblies since it happened is that we need to constantly focus on inclusion and changing our cultural views, having more empathy, and being more open,” said Ruffing. 

     Immediately after the incident, he added, Elder held its annual Alumni Sports Day, with more than 700 people in attendance. Solomon Wilcots, a former Cincinnati Bengals player and current broadcaster, spoke at the event and reminded attendees that young people make mistakes, then grow as a result. 

      “We all know this happens at other schools, but that doesn’t make it right,” Ruffing emphasized. “For us at Elder, that means stepping up our game to make sure it never happens again.” 

     This means participating in additional activities and programming about diversity and inclusion. In March, Elder students took part in a diversity conference at Summit Country Day School. The athletic directors, presidents, and principals from the four Greater Catholic League (GCL) South schools, including Elder and St. Xavier, have met to discuss related issues and will continue to do so. 

     In addition, Ruffing said, Elder is making a concerted effort to involve student leaders in discussions about sportsmanship and behavior at athletic events. The summer reading assignment for sophomores and juniors was “March: Book One,” by Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a leader in the American Civil Rights movement. Now that school has started, every student will be attending assemblies focused on divers-
ity and inclusion. Training is also planned to help students stand up for victims of abuse and intolerance. In September, faculty and staff will participate in training through the Mayerson Academy geared toward developing learning communities and character strength programs that center on cultural diversity. 

      “We can’t lose focus on the issues,” Ruffing said. “The things we’re doing aren’t just for this school year. We’re going to keep doing them. The students know that what happened that night isn’t right and have been very cooperative so far with our efforts. There is always going to be competition and rivalries between the high schools, but there has to be respect, too. 

      “Our relationship with St. X continues to be positive,” he added. 

     Terrence Tyrell, principal at St. Xavier, agrees. “Kurt and I were close prior to this, and we’re even closer now,” he said. “We’ve really communicated a lot in the aftermath and our main focus now is collaboration.” 

     One example is a student conference planned for September involving members of GCL South. Six students from each school will attend the conference, which will focus on leadership and sportsmanship. Speakers hadn’t been confirmed at press time, but Tyrell said Tom Gamble, GCL South commissioner, will serve as emcee.

     “The hope is that we’ll do it every year,” Tyrell said. “I can see this also expanding to all Catholic high schools. I’m excited about this because the answers lie with our students. They’re the future.” 

     Tyrell said that the school’s response has been rooted in St. Xavier’s Jesuit heritage.

      “We’re not afraid to have the hard conversations within our community in an effort to get better,” Tyrell said. 

     “We follow Ignatian spirituality and do a lot of reflection and examination of what we do, with the ultimate goal of being a welcoming and diverse school that cares for all students.” 

Elder and St. X use February incident to teach sportsmanship, respect

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