Alleged racial taunts of Ann Arbor Pioneer High football players probed

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor Public Schools officials are investigating alleged racial taunts against Pioneer High junior varsity football players this week when they played rivals in Monroe County.

The incident prompted Pioneer High's varsity coach to cancel the game scheduled Friday against Bedford High, where players Thursday allegedly were taunted by Bedford JV players.

"Our role is to place our young people in places where they are safe and where they can thrive and grow, and that didn’t take place," Coach Jimmy Williams told The Detroit News on Friday. "I won't be a part of that. That’s not who I am. And I will never allow my players to be subjected to that."

This April 1, 2018, photo shows Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Williams said he learned from Pioneer's junior varsity coach, Steve Simpson, that during their match Thursday with the Bedford JV team, multiple players allegedly called them the n-word throughout the first half of the game.

Simpson, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, told Williams he told a referee, "but (the incident) wasn’t managed," the varsity coach said.

The experience was "devastating" for the team, which has many African American players, Williams said.

He reported the incident to the school's athletic director and discussed it with the players Friday. Amid concerns about more racial taunting, Williams opted to cancel the varsity game.

"No player should be subjected to being called (the n-word)," he said.

In a statement Friday night, Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Jeanice Swift said her team "has engaged with the Bedford team in a follow-up investigation, to confirm the facts of what occurred, and to determine appropriate follow-up steps to address this matter. At this current time, these investigative and follow-up steps remain in process."

Swift said the district also has notified the director of high school football for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and she reached out to the Bedford superintendent.

"In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we take seriously all situations involving harm to our students, and we are committed to address all situations of racism that may arise, without fear," she said in the statement. "While we understand the consequences of not playing this game as they relate to enjoyment of a September evening of football and wins and losses, we fully and unequivocally support the position of our coach to demand a full accounting of the incident from Thursday night and to take action to avoid placing our AAPS athletes in a position to potentially be treated in the same manner."

In a statement Friday, Carl Shultz, the Bedford Public Schools superintendent, said an investigation of the alleged threats was immediately launched.

The Bedford High athletic director "spoke with game officials after the contest and was told that the alleged incident was not heard by the officiating team and that it was reported to them by the Pioneer coaching staff," he said. "It is our hope that we can work with Ann Arbor Pioneer Administration to complete a comprehensive investigation using factual information to develop a full understanding of any alleged inappropriate behaviors."

Shultz said he supported a probe and was disappointed about the Friday game.

"I am confident that if timely and appropriate communication had taken place, our teams could have participated in a game that would allow for a strong showing of sportsmanship," he said. "The one thing that is clear is that there is no place in high school athletics, or any other setting, for the type of behavior being alleged."

Williams hopes the situation leads to positive change.

"The whole hope is that the behavior is corrected and an atmosphere and environment is established where young men can compete and have an enjoyable experience and be successful," he said. "I've been teaching my guys about character and about (late congressman and civil rights activist) John Lewis: When you see something, say something."