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Bridgette Wagoner

Bridgette Wagoner W-SR director of educational services

Waverly-Shell Rock District’s Title IX and Equity coordinators have launched their own investigation into the reported racist language directed at a Charles City player at a baseball doubleheader in Waverly on June 27.

This is a separate investigation from the one conducted by administrators and coaches from both districts.

The purpose of the equity investigation is to determine the facts surrounding the incident by interviewing witnesses, establishing the nature of what was said and determining the source of the reported taunts, according to Bridgette Wagoner, the W-SR’s director of educational services and equity coordinator.

“We are legally required to investigate reports of discrimination and harassment,” she said.

In a July 5 message to parents, W-SR Superintendent Ed Klamfoth said the district is committed to a timely and thorough process, but also noted that the source of the reported taunts is still under investigation.

“Any reports that indicate that the individual or individuals who made the comments is known are rumors,” Klamfoth said. “We apologize for the confusion and want to be clear that we are not backtracking or minimizing; we just need to get it right.”

During the doubleheader, which was covered by Waverly Newspapers’ general assignment reporter and acting sports editor Eric VanSickle, spectators were asked to sit 6 feet apart, as is the mandate for gathering in public places under pandemic conditions. In compliance with the coronavirus rules, many fans were lining the outfield fence at Harms Stadium at Hertel Field on the Wartburg College campus.

Due to COVID-19, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union had shortened the summer baseball and softball seasons to start practices June 1 and games June 15. The competitions are to conclude with state tournaments July 24-Aug. 1 in Des Moines for baseball and July 27-31 for in Fort Dodge softball.

Multiple local and regional media outlets, including CNN, have reported that several comments were made during the second game. Jeremiah Chapman, the Comets’ only Black player, told the Charles City Press that a fan had first referred to him by his jersey number then called him, “Colin.” That jab referred to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the kneeling campaign to protest police brutality in 2016, but got flack because he did so during the National Anthem.

Later in that second game of the doubleheader, after Chapman caught a pop fly in right field, the same fans uttered, “go back to the fields,” according to the Press. Finally, when he missed a later fly ball while he was in center field, another taunt, “You should have been George Floyd,” was yelled. It is a reference to the Black man, whose death while in custody of Minneapolis Police on May 25, sparked global protests for racial justice, including in European soccer matches.

In interviews with other media outlets, Charles City Superintendent Nick Fisher stated his district’s investigation corroborated the taunts.

Waverly Newspapers has reached out to Fisher, but has not heard back by press time.

In an interview prior to the Go-Hawks’ game Thursday night at South Winneshiek with KWAY Radio’s Matt Ray, head baseball coach Casey Klunder said he found out about the comments within a half-hour following W-SR’s doubleheader sweep of the Comets.

“We didn’t know exactly at that point what was said,” Klunder said. “Obviously, there’s no place … in a baseball field or the communities of Waverly-Shell Rock or in society for those comments to be made.”

He and Ray discussed the “friendly rivalry,” as the broadcaster put it, between the Go-Hawks and Comets, especially in baseball. Klunder mentioned that one of Charles City’s pitchers was going to enter the military soon after the June 27 game, so his players hugged him following the doubleheader.

“A lot of what happened between the chalk lines represented really a lot of good things about high school athletics,” Klunder added. “It’s too bad that game is going to be remembered for other things.”

Earlier Thursday afternoon, Klunder told Waverly Newspapers that he did have a conversation with his team and added that what was said was going to “remain in house.”

The Northeast Iowa Conference, of which W-SR and Charles City are two of the seven members, issued a statement on July 3 acknowledging that racism exists within the community.

“We also know we are called to stand strongly for the dignity and rights of our students of color,” the statement read, adding that the members “stand together today in stating Black Lives Matter in the Northeast Iowa Conference.

“We believe racism and hate are learned, and can be unlearned,” the statement continues. “We recognize our school systems play a role in maintaining systemic bias and oppression. We embrace the challenge to use our roles as leaders to become better.”

The statement recognized not only Chapman’s incident, but also another that happened in Northwest Iowa, where a softball player from Storm Lake, who is Latina, was similarly taunted.

In an earlier statement, on July 2, the W-SR district acknowledged the incident and apologized for it.

“This behavior is unacceptable,” the statement read on the district’s Facebook page. “We make no excuses, because there are none. We do, however, wish to make a sincere apology to the Charles City school district and community and, in particular, the young man towards whom these comments were directed.

“We can’t undo what’s been done. But we are using this as a learning experience for the responsible party and, we hope, for many others in our schools and communities.”

At 3 p.m. that day, Klamfoth, the W-SR superintendent, sent a clarification to district parents:

“We were at first led to believe that the comments made were by one of our students.” the statement read. “However, further investigations into the circumstances surrounding the game reveal that we cannot say for certain that any racist comments came from any of our students. The Charles City student who stated he heard those comments was unable to identify the person responsible, so we do not know the source. We will continue to investigate the matter.

“We now know it was inaccurate to definitively state in the original email that one of our students made the comments, and we apologize for that. We’re sometimes forced to offer comment sooner than we would otherwise like, and this is one example.

“We hope to offer some action steps at some point in the future.”

Asked by Waverly Newspapers for a comment, W-SR School Board President Kelly Flege issued the following statement:

“It is an unfortunate and troubling incident and my heart goes out to Jeremiah Chapman, his family, and all involved, “ Flege said. “The District Administration is conducting an investigation. The Board is aware of the process underway while maintaining its independence, in the event a result leads to an appeal to the Board.”