Jim Kasik wants people to know how it feels to be taunted or called names.
The parent, former coach and current athletic director at Schuyler High School has been to a lot of competitions, and he’s troubled by what he has seen.
“Our parents who attend games hear the comments from other fans on a regular basis,” Kasik wrote in an opinion piece, titled “What it means to be a Schuyler Warrior.”
He writes that his students have been called racist names, spat upon by opponents and told to “go back home or wait until Trump builds the wall.”
More than 80 percent of Schuyler’s students are Latino, and most of their parents work at the Cargill meatpacking plant, the largest employer in town.
Kasik’s column was published in the Schuyler Sun and the Columbus Telegram and has been sent to every member school by the Nebraska School Activities Association.
Jim Tenopir, executive director of the NSAA, welcomed Kasik’s column and said he hopes it serves as a wake-up call. Sometimes, he said, students and fans cross the line when supporting their teams.
“Our school administrators and school advisers need to step up and make sure that what kids are saying isn’t derogatory toward any students,” Tenopir said.
Kasik said he has received positive responses to his column from as far away as California. None have been negative.
Kasik, who attended Schuyler schools, started teaching there in 1989 and has three boys who competed in numerous activities for the district.
Kasik said no one incident prompted him to write but that problems have escalated this school year.
It’s not a new issue.
In 2010 a Lincoln East fan threw homemade green cards on the field after a state soccer final against Omaha South High. In last year’s final a few Creighton Prep fans were said to have yelled “Build that wall” at South fans. It was a reference to now-President Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall between Mexico and the United States.
This week Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones, who is African-American, said he had been the target of racial epithets and that a bag of peanuts was thrown at him at Boston’s Fenway Park.
Kasik, 50, said incidents occur frequently at events involving his players. He hasn’t made a formal complaint to NSAA officials because Schuyler’s staff teach students that they need to learn how to handle such situations. Unfortunately, he said, such behavior won’t stop once the young people leave high school.
When a problem such as this comes to the attention of the NSAA, Tenopir said, he can resolve the matter most of the time with a phone call.
If that doesn’t work, he said, he has the ability to issue a public or private reprimand or take other steps, such as game forfeitures, putting a school on probation or suspending a team from postseason play.
Tenopir said he never has had to take those actions because of a racial issue.
Schuyler senior Daniel Mendoza, who was born in California and wants to become a physician, said football and basketball opponents have told him they hope Trump gets rid of him and he’s deported to Mexico.
Mendoza said he appreciated his athletic director’s column. “It means a lot he understands our struggle,” Mendoza said.
Other school districts with predominantly Hispanic populations have encountered problems, Kasik said.
“You can really only understand it if you are from Lexington, Madison, South Sioux City, Omaha South or the other handful of districts that are like us,” he writes.
Madison Principal Jim Crilly said he has faced similar situations in his 16 years in the district.
An Omaha South High official, who spoke on the condition of not being named, cited several incidents.
A few weeks ago, after the Packers lost a 1-0 soccer match to Millard North, someone wrote on Twitter: “What’s wrong with South soccer? Trump’s presidency taking a toll on your talent?”
Another time the Packers were collecting money at one of their games for an injured football player at another school. Fans of their opponent told them to take their pesos and go back to Mexico.
Erik Tena, a Schuyler senior who plans to study business at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, tries to ignore it when a voice from the crowd calls him “Juan” or “Pablo” because of his thick mustache. He said he and his teammates have learned to turn the other cheek.
“They just tell you to not feed the fire, keep it to yourself,” he said. “If anything big would happen, you can tell an administrator. Don’t add to it.”
Although he’s disappointed with the number of occurrences, Kasik said there was a wonderful moment of sportsmanship this week, too. Before Schuyler’s district soccer final Thursday, players from South Sioux City came over, thanked Schuyler for shedding light on the situation and asked if the two teams could have their picture taken together.
After Prep lost to South last year in the state final, a few Junior Jays attended the South pep rally the next day and were greeted warmly by the Packers.
Crilly, of Madison, said he tells his students they have nothing to be ashamed of and that if they work hard, they can go far.
If someone puts down a teammate, he advises, stick up for that person.
“Our kids don’t see colors,” Crilly said, “they see friends.”