By JEROD CLAPP
FLOYDS KNOBS — Some costumes and masks worn at a Highland Hills Middle School basketball game were perceived as racist by parents in the stands Thursday night, but New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. officials insist the students were just participating in a school spirit event.
Three students wore either gorilla or President Barack Obama masks during the school’s game against Parkview Middle School. Some of the team members on Parkview’s team were black.
Thursday night’s game was one of Highland Hills’ spirit nights, where fans wore a designated school color to the game. Steve Griffin, principal, said the school had three others previous to Thursday’s game, where they wore white, green and gold. Thursday, fans were encouraged to wear black.
“I really do think most of our kids emulate what they see on the college scene,” Griffin said. “If you watch that, there’s all kinds of different costumes that are worn in any college game. I really think our kids were trying to emulate what they were seeing on TV more than anything. I don’t think the kids themselves consciously thought about trying to offend someone, they were just trying to be goofy.”
He said other students wore costumes and masks such as Batman, a character from the “Scream” movies and an old woman.
But after he heard concerns during the game about the gorilla mask, he asked that student to take it off for the remainder of the game.
Bruce Hibbard, superintendent of New Albany-Floyd County Schools, said he also didn’t believe the students sought to offend anyone, but the district wouldn’t put up with it if they had.
“We wouldn’t tolerate that as a school district, I honestly don’t believe there was any ill will by those students at the game,” Hibbard said. “I believe it was misinterpreted. I do know that Mr. Griffin did call and apologize on behalf of the school to Parkview.”
Griffin said he called the parents of the children wearing the costumes the next day to explain why they might have been seen as inappropriate and met with his guidance counselors to draft up new policies for spirit days to prevent any further confusion.
Andrew Melin, superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools, said he’s never seen anything like that happen during his time as a superintendent, but also said he was satisfied with how Highland Hills and its district handled the situation.
“I think, at least in my experience, it’s very unique for that to have occurred,” Melin said. “I guess what I’m appreciative about is that officials in New Albany-Floyd County at the school and at the corporation level did a really good job of responding to it. Sometimes, kids will be kids and they don’t always understand the ramifications of what they do.”
He said working with the district led to a solution they found amicable.
“Once we made them aware of the concern, they reached out to our administrator at Parkview to apologize for the situation that occurred and they also assured us that they would be dealing with the students that were involved,” Melin said.
Griffin said he didn’t think the students meant the costumes to represent racial slurs, but he called each one and their parents to explain why they might have been interpreted that way.
“I don’t think a 12-year-old would consider that as something offensive, but I can understand how someone else might see it that way,” Griffin said. “It was a healthy, competitive environment, and if I thought it was anything less, I would have done something to avoid some toxicity.”
Highland Hills won the game, 34-29.