The Haddonfield School District has agreed to apologize to West Deptford after a white baseball player made monkey noises while a Black pitcher was on the mound, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Haddonfield investigated the incident and confirmed that it occurred, Cherenson said. The district “took appropriate remedial action,” he said.
In addition to the apology, Cherenson said, the district was conducting meetings with each of its athletic programs to emphasize sportsmanship. A task force will be organized this summer to come up with professional development for coaches and training for student athletes, he said.
Haddonfield School Superintendent Charles Klaus confirmed the corrective action plan. Districts are required to investigate instances that are reported as possible harassment, intimidation, or bias (HIB) incidents.
“We have dealt with this,” Klaus said in an interview Tuesday. “We very openly own these things.”
The NJSIAA said West Deptford was “satisfied” with Haddonfield’s investigation and response to the incident.
West Deptford School Superintendent Gregory Cappello declined comment, saying the matter is “bigger than we would have thought.” A source familiar with the incident said the pitcher’s family was upset because the teen, 15, had not received an apology
”We’re not commenting until everything is resolved,” Cappello said.
Camden County Prosecutor Grace C. MacAulay is looking into the incident, said spokesperson Donna Weaver. No specifics were provided and no charges have been filed.
”We are investigating it,” Weaver said Wednesday.
The Haddonfield Police Department also launched a probe into the case as a possible bias incident after it was contacted June 1 by Jason Roland, a detective in the county prosecutor’s office. The detective said he learned about the incident from news reports.
According to the police investigation report, police were also notified about the incident in an email from Mayor Colleen Bezich.
Bezich has said she planned to work with the police chief to combat racist incidents like the baseball game taunting, as well as recent anti-Semitic incidents. Swastikas were spray-painted on trees in a historic Quaker graveyard and at several other locations. She was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The report says Haddonfield police advised Roland that the department planned to investigate the incident for possible bias or harassment, but the status of the investigation is unknown.
The incident occurred during a junior varsity game between Haddonfield and West Deptford High School, when a white Haddonfield player made “monkey sounds” while the Black player from West Deptford — the only Black student on the team — was pitching, officials have said.
A sportsmanship statement by the NJSIAA must be read before every scholastic athletic event to athletes and coaches, said Cherenson, who noted it was read before the May 10 game. It states in part, “There will be no tolerance for any negative behavior, such as taunting, trash talking and verbal, written or physical conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or religion.” Such behavior could result in ejection from the game, the statement says.
The game between Colonial Conference rivals was played in Haddonfield, where just a little over 1% of its approximate 12,000 residents are Black. Haddonfield won the game, 9-3.
Some players have said the monkey noises were intended to distract the pitcher and were not racially motivated.
Haddonfield conducted an investigation after it was contacted by West Deptford and promised it would “hold any and all parties responsible for their actions if confirmed.” The NJSIAA reported the matter to the state Division on Civil Rights as it did four years ago when a Haddonfield boys’ lacrosse player was accused of calling a Black athlete from Sterling High School the N-word.
The district’s investigation corroborated the account by the Sterling student and others who heard it, school officials said. When no one would admit to using the slur, the superintendent canceled the remainder of the season.
Klaus declined comment on whether any disciplinary action had been taken in the latest incident, citing privacy rules.
Klaus said the task force to develop professional development and training would include student input. He said the district, one of the most elite in South Jersey, wants to put the incident behind it.
”It’s a painful thing,” Klaus said.