Central Falls High School volleyball team met with racist comments in Burrillville

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“…our girls, I’m not saying we’re better, but they’re held to a higher accountability,” said Central Falls parent Maria Pedraza. “For our girls, it was mind-boggling that nobody was addressing the boys’ behavior. That they were not being reprimanded or at least told to stop it…”

Central Falls High School sports teams are used to not having a large amount of support when they do away games, because many parents don’t have a car, said Maria Pedraza, a Central Falls mother and a school secretary. That’s why she was one of the three adults accompanying the Varsity and Junior Varisty Lady Warriors volleyball teams on a trip to play Burillville High School last Monday. The other two adults from Central Falls were team coaches.

The Central Falls Junior Varsity team won the first match, and Pedraza considered leaving. “Normally I leave after JV because I can’t drive at night, but I don’t know why, this night I decided to hang on a little bit,” said Pedraza. “About 15 minutes before the game started a group of boys came in, and were dressed in red, white and blue. We didn’t think much of it. We’re used to the crowds.”

At first the boys were simply rowdy and loud, said Pedraza, cheering on the home team, “but then, as two of the girls that are Cape Verdean started peppering, one of the boys yelled, ‘Let’s get dark in here!'” [Note: peppering is a popular volleyball warm-up drill.]

“Then the boys started laughing.”

Pedraza continued:

“When the second period started, one the the Burrillville girls scored a point and one of the boys in the bleachers stood up and said, ‘That’s how you do it in America!’ The rest of the boys started laughing and waving their flags.

“At this point the girls from the Junior Varsity team are coming up to me and saying, ‘Miss are you listening to what they’re saying?’ I said, ‘I’m listening. We’re all listening, but we’re remaining calm. They can say whatever they want.’

“The girls were starting to get visibly affected. My daughter was at the table, she was keeping the books, so she was recording some of the comments that they’re making to the girls.

A boy yelled at two of the Central Falls players, one Jamaican and one Cape Verdean, “Go back to your country, you can’t even speak!

“They started mocking her accent. The girls were trying to stay focused.

“The game ended,” said Pedraza. “We waited, we held back, waiting for everybody to leave the gym so that we could exit with our girls.”

As the team entered the parking lot and began to get on their bus, Pedraza saw an adult woman high fiving the boys, saying, “Good job boys, see you next game.”

“As the girls were starting to go into the bus, two pickups full of the boys – the boys were riding in the back of the pickups – they started singing ‘God Bless America,’ they started ululating, they started saying, ‘Go home!'” said Pedraza.

“They were mocking our players, yelling at them…” The boys began to sing ‘God Bless the USA’ by Lee Greenwood. According to Pedraza, the boys yelled, “We belong here!” and “This is our country!”

After the Central Falls bus left, Pedraza waited in her car, texting her husband. As she sat there, parents were joining their kids in the parking lot, taking pictures and celebrating what had happened inside.

“What was more upsetting is that none of the adults that were there were addressing the issue,” Pedraza told me. “I had a couple sitting in the bleachers right beside me who were just laughing and taking video and one said, ‘Oh my God these kids are hilarious.’

“When the Central Falls coach asked the referee ‘What are you going to do about this?’ The referee said, ‘I have it handled. Everything is under control.’ The only time the antics of the boys was addressed was when they took out an airhorn every time the Central Falls team was going to start. The referee grabbed the coaches attention and the coaches told the boys ‘No more airhorns.’

“But nothing about their behavior, and I think that’s so appalling because our girls, I’m not saying we’re better, but they’re held to a higher accountability,” said Pedraza. “For our girls, it was mind-boggling that nobody was addressing the boys’ behavior. That they were not being reprimanded or at least told to stop it.

“Our girls were there to play ball. They were there to have a healthy competition. And it didn’t need to get into racial stuff. One of the parents in Burillville were saying, ‘It’s just school spirit and they were wearing red, white and blue.’ I said, ‘We do it too, but we celebrate our diversity. We don’t separate. We don’t make personal comments. Anybody who’s been to Central Falls knows that we have all shapes and colors.

“To me it was eye opening, as to how adult behavior can influence kids,” continued Pedraza. “I don’t see this as being a teenager thing or kids being kids. A group of boys can be intimidating to a group of girls. So when you have such a big group of boys, which was maybe 20, yelling things to them, demeaning them, putting them down, stuff that might not be directly racial, but insinuated, stuff like, ‘Let’s get dark in here,’ – those things have a hold. Those things do hurt them.

When talking to my daughter and her teammates, Pedraza relates that, “they felt like, ‘We’re so pissed, but we need to keep quiet.’ I think that took a lot. It’s a little chipping that gets taken away from them, from their soul and their self worth. It was not okay.

“And for adults to just stand by and not to say anything, is even worse.

“I can tell you that if that were to have happened from our kids, they would have been escorted out of the gym,” said Pedraza. “We don’t tolerate it. Maybe because we’re a rich, diverse population, but we really don’t tolerate racial innuendos, or slurs, or any type of discrimination. Not just with ethnicity or color, with everything, gender and everything. It’s just not appropriate.

“Our girls are held to a high standard, and I think that’s where this frustration comes from. This wouldn’t happen in our court. If this had been in our schools there would have been consequences, probably to the point of social suspension, social restriction. But when it happens somewhere else, it’s just kids being kids. I wish we’d stop saying ‘just kids being kids’ because it’s actually not kids. We’re talking about high schoolers, we’re talking about young adults that are capable of knowing what is wrong and what is right, regardless of your upbringing. When you chose deliberately to do wrong, you need to be held accountable.”

Counting the two coaches and herself as a parent, there were only three adults from Central Falls present. “We wanted to avoid confrontation as much as possible, and we wanted to remain professional in saying, ‘This is not who we are. We’re not going to succumb to this. If I were a teenager, thinking back, being 15, 16-years-old, it was very scary. Especially with everything going on in the news. You can’t help but feel scared for your safety, like ‘Holy shit. This is real. This is happening.'”

Central Falls lost the Varsity match. “Not to take credit from Burrillville, but it’s very hard to focus when you’re being bombarded by all this. Seeing how Central Falls has played against Portsmouth, which is a great team, and East Greenwich, I think our team was not playing to their maximum. They were visibly affected by what was going on.

“They were visibly shaken. They were trying to battle, like, ‘How do I feel about what’s happening?’ and being in the game.”

Jonathan Acosta is an educator and City Councilor in Central Falls. I asked him what he thought about the behavior of the Burrillville students during and after the game.

“It’s moments like these that force us to consider the power and evil inherent in racism,” said Acosta. “A power that plants itself in the psyches of white kids like these and emboldens them to dehumanize and disrespect other kids simply because of their ethnic or national backgrounds. How is it that a person so young has the capacity for such evil? You’re not born this way. You’re socialized into being a monster. This shit is our fault, our problem, our country. As Tupac said, ‘America eats its babies… no matter what you think of [us], I’m still your child.’ Central Falls kids are American and to suggest anything else is simple minded racist xenophobia. This is as clear a sign as any that racism is alive and well, even in this small ‘liberal’ state.”

Central Falls City Councilor Jessica Vega agrees. “The adults in the room should’ve been acting like adults instead of laughing at racists antics. The Lady Warrior Volleyball Team deserves an apology and actions should be taken against the students and administration.”

Calls to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, Burrillville Principal Michael Whaley and the coaches of the Burrillville High School volleyball teams were not returned.

[All the video and pictures on this page are (c)2019 Maria Pedraza]

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About Steve Ahlquist 1077 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com


  1. This unfortunate situation must be used as an opportunity to educate. It is hard to believe that these students are not being held accountable for their horrific behavior. Parents you are still responsible for your kids.

  2. I am a resident of Burrillville, and I am sorry that the Central Falls girls had to be subject to this inexcusable behavior. I have 2 children in the Burrillville school system (just elementary, thank goodness), and I wrote the superintendent last Monday. I work at an independent school, and I’d be happy to withdraw my kids from BSD if this type of behavior is allowed. I plan to contact him again after the tepid statement he sent home to us parents this week.

    Please don’t judge all of this by the ignorant parents of some high school idiots. We have a vibrant community with a lot of kind, intelligent people. This is not the first time the high school students have been an embarrassment to the neighborhood. Maybe it’s time that the rest of us in this town put a little pressure on the high school administration to shape up.

  3. If there was ethnic intimidation from a home crowd that was allowed to continue, their team’s victory must be voided. Additionally their coach and their AD need to be written up formally, as does the referee. Getting handed a loss because of their crowd will change the home team’s response immediately.

  4. Start a petition, boycott this school, no other schools should play any of their teams for condoning this disgusting behavior. #boycottBurrillville

  5. Please don’t judge the whole town of Burrillville as toothless racist rednecks! We aren’t all as cruel and ignorant as these kids and adults.

  6. If you look back to 96-97 Soccer seasons. Burrillville was responsible for a brawl during a boys game in Burrillville. There was a news article and newspaper write ups. So this isn’t the first time and won’t be the last. I grew up in Burrillville was in high school at this time. I currently reside in Central Falls, as a parent of a high school student now. These boys acting like this makes all white people look racist. My daughter is bullied because she is white. The more you bring to schools attention the more they sweep under rug. Last year was a struggle. This year so far has been ok for my daughter. But my fear is situations like this will cause these CF kids to be hateful. We would all hope not but let’s face it, hate breds hate.

  7. Burrillville is not a diverse community and this is how they react to anything that challenges them. The adults aren’t going to help the kids because they don’t know any better. Generations of small town, white community. Been there.

    • This is horrible that burrillville should not be able to play volleyball for the rest of the season should not be tolerated

  8. Like Councilor Vega said, the adults should have done something about the boy’s behavior. Their inaction is even more disturbing. Do these boys have any men in their lives who care enough to teach them right from wrong?

    • This came from the RI Commissioner of Education:

      “A Teachable Moment

      Last week, there were reports of an unfortunate incident at a high school athletic event. Racial slurs were allegedly used, and one of the reported jeers was, “go back to your country.” Another was, “that’s how we do it in America.”

      No, it isn’t.

      What took place is unacceptable, especially in a venue that is designed to foster sportsmanship and collegiality. We cannot turn a blind eye to racism, wherever we see and hear it. We have to name it, talk about it, and make clear that it will not be tolerated.

      These conversations are difficult, and can be uncomfortable, but as Maribeth Calabro from the Providence Teachers Union said on a panel on which we participated together this week, “we have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

      I spoke with the Superintendent from the community in question, and was assured that the district would take immediate action. I appreciate the swift response, and I offered my support as they tackle a challenging but critical conversation.

      But this isn’t about one community. I still consider myself a teacher, first and foremost, and this is a teaching moment for all of us. Let’s not sweep this under the rug. Let’s face it head on. I encourage all superintendents to talk to your leadership teams, and principals to your teachers. Find a way to talk to your students about diversity, inclusion, empathy, and equity. Talk to them about racism. Students, if your school isn’t talking about it, start the conversation.

      We all will be stronger as a result.”

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