For multiple games, the teens – Kings students playing in a youth league not affiliated with the school district but using local school gyms – wore jerseys seen by dozens if not hundreds of parents, fans, friends and others.
They all saw a player whose jersey name on the back was “Knee Grow” play next to a teammate identified by his uniform as “Coon.”
And they played on a squad they – along with their adult coaches – dubbed “Wet Dream Team.”
But it took those multiple games before anyone spoke up about the thinly veiled racist terms.
Here in this southern Warren County community – and many more across the nation – people are talking about what happened and what needs to be done about it.
Dora Bronston, president of the Middletown unit of the NAACP, said the incident left her “shocked that any parent, leader in our school districts or in our cities would allow any child to wear shirts that have words on them that would purposely bring up slang language to put down a race. That language is not tolerable and we should not tolerate it. These kids and their parents need to go to counseling.”
Bronston said that all of the jersey controversy unfolding so near the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday was a coincidence that could continue the conversation.
“We need to keep discussing these issues and not cringe when the topic of race comes up,” she explained. “It should be put in our spirit that prejudice is not okay.”
Fallout and promises of change
Tonya Hampton is the coordinator of International Programs at the University of Cincinnati, and she has been outspoken on the issue of the jerseys.
“I can’t believe that this happened and that the adults and coaches thought for a second this was okay and that no one reported it until after (games were) played with these racist and sexualized jerseys,” Hampton said. “Shameful. It’s just unbelievable. So many ‘good’ people doing nothing.”
The aftermath of last week’s revelations also forced the resignation Tuesday of Kings Board of Education Vice President Kerry McKiernan, who in an earlier, emotional confession announced his intention to resign a few days after the jerseys came to light.
A father of one of the boys on the team, McKiernan said he failed in his responsibilities by not objecting to the jerseys when they were first unveiled.
The make-up of the five-member governing board for Kings Schools, which over the years has been among the region’s top school districts, will now shift as remaining members must appoint someone to fill McKiernan’s seat by Feb. 9.
And Kings Superintendent Tim Ackermann – who oversees a district whose student enrollment is 2.3 percent African American, 5.4 percent Hispanic and 3.6 percent Asian – promises additional changes.
Though he won’t detail what’s coming, he said new racial and other diversity awareness programs and activities will show those outside of the Kings community the seriousness of the schools’ commitment to making sure everyone knows they are welcomed in the largely white school system.
‘How do we fix it?’
Kings parent Adrian Williams said the lingering question of “how did this happen” has to quickly become secondary to a more important query: “How do we fix it?”
It’s been painful, said Williams, who is African-American and a volunteer member of an existing Kings committee on diversity.
“It’s important to educate the kids and the parents, but the actions of the school district since have been spot on,” Williams said.
Kings parent Jen Alge, whose children “have disabilities,” stepped to the mic at the recent school board meeting to address the “national scandal that happened.”
“I really care about inclusion and diversity,” for special needs students as well as minorities, she said.
“It’s something I want our schools to be really good at,” she told the board.
Parent Todd Cain said he isn’t optimistic, saying he is concerned by “the very lackadaisical nature of the board in general” and said the all-white board of three women and one man is a prime place to start with change.
“I would certainly like to see some additional diversity on the board,” said Cain, referencing the new member who will soon be chosen.
His wife Julie Cain, who is also on the district’s diversity committee, said, “I am not convinced that they (board members) really understand the problem.”
“It’s going to be hard to identify how to change it when you don’t know what you are solving for. I don’t believe that when you live in such (an isolation) bubble you can really comprehend the impact of things that happen, the consequences and the ripple effects,” she said.
But Williams predicted Kings officials will change things for the better.
“I’m quite optimistic about the future of race relations here,” Williams said. “This brought about awareness. And when you know better, you do better.”
SERIES OF EVENTS
January 2018 timeline detailing jersey saga involving Kings students:
Jan. 7: Team including Kings students removed from non-school-affiliated recreation league for wearing “Team Wet Dream” jerseys featuring racial epitaphs ‘Knee Grown” and “Coon” after opposing parent from West Clermont, Tony Rue, alerts league.
Jan. 9: Kings Board of Education Vice President Kerry McKiernan announces he will resign and states that his son was on the team.
Jan. 16: Kings school board formally accpets McKiernan’s resignation. Community members voice concerns at a school board meeting over how the team was able to wear the jerseys for four games before the situation was reported.
Jan. 17: Kings officials begin accepting applications for candidates to fill McKiernan’s board seat.