The Fulton County School System is investigating an allegation that an Alpharetta High School baseball coach used a racial epithet toward a Valdosta High School player at a tense Friday night game.
According to the player’s mother LaVerne Rome, the incident occurred after Valdosta High School defeated Alpharetta High School in extra innings in Valdosta.
“At that point, my son led teammates toward home plate to cheer on teammate for the game-winning run.”
Alpharetta’s coach ran toward her son and used language both vulgar and racial in telling her son to go back to his dugout, she said.
According to Fulton spokeswoman Donna Lowry: “We are aware of the allegations and are investigating the claims both locally and through the Georgia High School Association. Because of the holiday today, it may take some time to get all of the answers and complete the investigation.”
(I have heard from three Alpharetta High parents that they can’t believe this coach is capable of such language. However, none was at the game in Valdosta.)
An extraordinary element to this incident: Rome is director of public relations for Lowndes County Schools. It is her job to deal with situations exactly like this when they erupt in her district. But her role now is concerned mother.
“As a professional, I hate it when stuff like this happens. But when it hurts your family and your child to the core, you become a mom,” she said in a telephone interview.
Rome was not at Friday night’s game; a sinus infection kept her home. Her husband called her earlier from the game to report Valdosta was trailing 5-1. Then, he called after the game to tell her Valdosta had won, and their son was one of the first payers out of the dugout to cheer teammates.
Rome said she could hear the stress in her husband’s voice as he described the incident with the Alpharetta coach.
“I am sure it was frustrating for Alpharetta to lose and I know coaches lose their tempers, but he caused so much hurt and pain for my son and our family,” she said. “We are a family that preach and practice the golden rule. We don’t judge everyone by color. We taught our children not to see color.”
As an athlete, her son has dealt with trash talk on the field, but never overt racism, she said.
Rome initially posted an account of the incident to Facebook, but took it down after the comments turned ugly toward the Alpharetta coach. “My intention is not to perpetuate hate. What the coach said to my son was hate. We can’t drive away hate with hate.”
Several Alpharetta High baseball players defended their coach on Rome’s Facebook post, including an African-American player. Players said their coach did not tolerate bad language and made them do pushups if they cursed. They don’t believe their coach would ever use a racial slur.
“We have no reason to fabricate a story like this. My credibility and reputation are on the line as well,” said Rome.
Her goal, she said, is not to get the man fired. But she recognizes that decision is out of her hands. “My desire is to effect change. I would not want any other family to ever feel what we are feeling,” she said. “I have no control in what happens. It is a choice the coach made to sputter hate. Whatever the consequences are, I hope he and his family can begin to heal and go on from here.”
I asked Dr. Todd Cason, superintendent of Valdosta City Schools, about the incident: “My athletic director and head coach have secured statements from those who may have heard the exchange. Upon receiving, I will contact the school, superintendent, Georgia High School Association, and Professional Standards Commission. With that being said, if this occurred as described, and we don’t have reason not to believe our player, there is absolutely no place in our society for it, especially when it involves children,” said Dr. Cason in an email Monday.