What year is it, anyway?
The reason I ask is because I was taken back to a less kind, less gentle time last Friday night. I was covering the Sterling at LaSalle-Peru boys basketball game, which Sterling won to claim the outright Northern Illinois Big 12 West championship over L-P.
Something happened throughout the game that greatly bothered me. Every time Sterling’s Jose Knox, who is of Hispanic descent, touched the ball, the L-P student section would break into the famed “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé” chant.
If the chant would have targeted a Caucasian player, I probably would have thought nothing of it. The fact that it was directed at a Hispanic player made it feel racially motivated, even if it wasn’t.
I kept waiting for an L-P school representative to hush the insensitive crowd. I never saw that. I’ve seen administrators put a stop to far less offensive chants. But, in this case, nothing appeared to be done. That was just as bothersome, if not more so, than the chant itself. The typical token sportsmanship spiel over the public address system before most high school games obviously is not enough.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," was L-P Athletic Director Greg Sarver's response to the situation. "This is the first I've heard of it. I was there, but I was in and out. I'm not condoning that, but I never hears it. I'm not the one in charge of that. Our principal and assistant principal are in charge of that."
Sarver defended his school's student section.
“Sterling Athletic Director Greg King told me after the game that our students are the best,” Sarver said. “Our student body was voted No. 1 in our local paper [the LaSalle News Tribune] of schools in our area.”
To their credit, Knox and his Hispanic teammate, Alejandro Rivera, weren’t bothered. However, Sterling coach Ryan Brown certainly was, and has been each time he’s been to L-P in his three seasons with the Warriors.
“It happens every time we go down there,” Brown said. “It’s disturbing that it happens in 2012. It’s not 1951. They’ve been terrible to our Hispanic players and our African-American players.”
Brown cited an instance a few years ago involving mixed race 2010 Sterling grad Alec Monaghan.
“They were calling him a monkey and making monkey noises,” Brown said.
I don’t want to single out LaSalle-Peru, but that’s where I heard this, and I don’t recall hearing anything I deemed racially offensive anywhere else in my journalistic career of some 20 years. Though, I have heard plenty of shameful things that weren’t racial from many a student section, and too often from so-called adults. I say so-called because, to me, to be called an adult, you need to act like one.
Current Rock Falls boys basketball coach Scott Olson, who coached at L-P for three seasons before taking over the Rockets, is all too familiar with the Cavaliers’ apparently well-earned reputation.
“I was embarrassed a number of times by the student section,” said Olson, who was at Friday’s game. “They crossed many lines. It bothered me. I complained about it. There needs to be some backup by the administration, and there isn’t, or wasn’t, enough. There’s a lot of good kids there. Unfortunately, they let some guys do what they want to.”
King was at the game, too.
“Any time you’re dealing with discrimination, racial or any type, it’s unfortunate,” King said. “I’m not sure if it was a racial thing, but they should not have been doing it.”
Knox and Rivera simply used the taunting as motivation.
“When I heard them, it just got us more pumped up and ready to beat them,” Knox said. “It’s not really a big deal. It was not anything personal at all.”
“You just have to let that stuff fuel your flame,” Rivera said. “It makes you play better. You just want to shut them up. I don’t like to hear that stuff, but I can’t do much about it. I’m not going to physically do anything about it.”
Good for you, Alejandro and Jose. Way to take the high road. Hopefully more join you there, and I don’t have to write about anything like this ever again.