The Georgia High School Association has upheld the suspension of one of the Paideia School’s top soccer players ahead of tonight’s state championship who complained he was subjected to a racial slur by some opponents.
The head of the state’s athletic governing body also said that Armuchee High School, whose players were accused of lobbing racial slurs at Paideia players during last week’s state semifinal match, would not face any sanctions.
“We are following our rules and going by the game report and officials,” said Robin Hines, executive director of the GHSA. “Ejections are not reviewable.”
Hines added that while parents and members of the Paideia squad reported hearing racial slurs, the game officials never reported that they heard them.
“The officials did not hear anything. It was reported to them, but they did not hear it,” Hines said. “If they had heard it, they would have sanctioned it. All we can go by is what the evidence shows.”
The rulings came hours before the Paideia team was preparing to travel from Atlanta to Macon tonight to play the Atlanta International School for the state championship. But it has been, Paideia leaders and parents say, an arduous journey.
In Friday’s semifinal game, which they won 5-0, parents, players and school administrators say the win came amid a barrage of racial slurs from players on the other team.
“It is unbelievable and heartbreaking that your child has to experience this, during one of the most important times of their career, and for it to be tainted by abject racism,” said Tia Alvarez-Stith, whose son is a sophomore on the team. “None of us were prepared for that. It is horrible to have your child be demoralized when they are supposed to be celebrating.”
Alvarez-Stith and other parents said their sons, aside from the rough play, were called the n-word several times. Complaints were met with yellow cards and one of Paideia’s top players was hit with a red card, making him ineligible to play in Tuesday’s final.
Calls to Armuchee High School were not returned, but a letter from its principal to one parent indicated the school is investigating.
In a letter to the Paideia community, Athletic Director Mike Emery said the team “did their best to navigate a high-stakes game against players using hostile tactics.”
“Our boys’ team was subjected to racial taunts by players on the opposing team resulting in heated emotional and physical behavior on the field,” Emery wrote. “Paideia players, parents, and coaches left the game upset and disappointed, which added to the heavy emotions we have been feeling all week.”
In his letter, Emery said he had contacted the Georgia High School Association to report the incidents. The school said in a statement Monday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it is “working through the proper channels to register our complaints with the Georgia High School Association.”
“The Paideia School is focusing on our students and athletes right now,” Paul Bianchi, Paideia’s Head of School, said in the statement.
Hines said the state has strict policies against racist, profane and abusive language and that several players and schools have been penalized this season.
“It is simply not tolerated at all under the code of sportsmanship,” Hines said. “But it has to be proven or documented.”
Hines confirmed that Paideia asked for an appeal on the red card, which carries an automatic suspension for the following game. An Armuchee player also got a red card suspension and several yellow cards were also given throughout the match.
Hines said red cards, and suspensions, are judgment calls, “that are not reviewable or reversible. All ejections are judgment calls.”
Sule Carpenter, whose son is on the Paideia team, sent a letter to Armuchee High School and the chairman of the Floyd County School Board. Armuchee is in the Floyd school district.
“I am extremely disappointed that, in 2023, my son had to experience this level of racism and bigotry. He deserves better,” Carpenter wrote, adding that his son scored the team’s third goal. “He left the field feeling defeated. Instead of celebrating his victory during the car ride home, we had to have a long discussion about racism. The behavior of your players reflects poorly on your school, its administration, staff, students and their families.”
Armuchee Principal Joseph Pethel wrote back in a letter obtained by the AJC.
“I want to start by apologizing for the need of your difficult conversation in place of the excitement of winning and advancing to the state championship game,” Pethel wrote. “We take these issues seriously and will continue to investigate and make sure that appropriate actions are taken for all involved. We wish Paideia School the best as you all move forward in the state tournament.”
Paideia will play the Atlanta International School for the 1A Division 1 Boys Soccer state championship at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Macon.
“It is really disheartening and disappointing,” said parent Natalie Carpenter. “My kid just wants to play soccer and be a teen. (Racism) should be the last thing on your mind when you are playing soccer. I don’t know how to explain that.”
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