Alleged racist taunts mar Scarborough soccer match

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SCARBOROUGH — Alleged racist language at a recent high school soccer game has prompted investigations by Scarborough and Portland school superintendents, both of whom denounced the behavior.

Parents and others charge that racial slurs and insults were directed toward members of the Deering High School boys’ soccer team during an Oct. 7 game against home team Scarborough, spurring the investigations.

A joint press release from the superintendents’ offices said that support has been made available for the Deering players, and that “appropriate action” has been taken to ensure the behavior does not occur again.

“The Scarborough Public Schools and the Portland Public Schools strongly denounce any and all student or sports fan behavior that could be considered inappropriate, harassing, or bigoted and any such behavior will not be tolerated at any school event,” the release read.

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While the insults reportedly came from the Scarborough stands, Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said in the release that he heard nothing to indicate that the Scarborough players took part.

According to Deering coach Joel Costigan, insults during the varsity game included shouts of “go back to Africa and eat a banana” and “I can smell you from here.” An American flag was also waved amid chants of “USA.”

Scarborough Athletic Director Michael LeGage said that the American flag has been present on both sides of the field at past games, and that the behavior mimics cheering at international soccer matches.

But while flag waving is common in professional soccer, Costigan said, “given the context of the racial comments made throughout the night, it would seem a rather odd coincidence if this were not orchestrated.”

“While it creates (a) great environment to have an active fan section, these behaviors are inexcusable, ignorant, and racist, and go beyond a friendly rival ‘game environment,’” Costigan said.

Enrollment at Deering, one of three public high schools in Portland, includes students of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

A Deering parent, Todd Brennan, said he was grateful for the presence of diversity in his son’s education, and that he was “disgusted” by the behavior at the game.

“One of the biggest assets to having my son go to Deering High is the ethnic diversity he is exposed to and is integrated with,” Brennan said. “He has embraced it and as a result has developed into a caring and respectful young man. I am eternally grateful for that.”

Caulk, who is black, expressed similar sentiments in the release.

“The Portland Public Schools is proud to be Maine’s most diverse school district,” he said. “Our diversity is one of our strengths and we will not tolerate any aspersions against our students because of it.”

Caulk also praised Scarborough for “swiftly” handling the incident. LeGage, who issued an apology to Portland officials, said that the incident will be used to “provide a learning opportunity” for Scarborough students.

Lily O’Gara can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or logara@sunmediagroup.net. Follow her on Twitter: @lilyog28.

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