Racist remarks fired at BHS volleyball players

Due to the sensitive nature of this article, some student names have been excluded for privacy reasons. Eds: Story contains some vulgarity. Eds: The author of this article is a member of the BHS girls volleyball team.


BHS JV girls volleyball team. Photo: Cecily Spence

On October 6, BHS’ girls’ varsity volleyball team was in their third set against South Burlington High School (SBHS), when students from the SBHS spectator section directed racist remarks towards BHS’ junior varsity students of color. 

According to the targeted students of color, the incident was prompted when the BHS JV team started cheering for varsity. SBHS spectators yelled, “We can’t hear you” in response. The BHS students said an SBHS spectator then called the BHS JV students of color ‘bitches.’ And when the BHS students ignored them, the SBHS spectator came back with their peers and said, “Go back to Nigeria. Go back to your country.”

The BHS coaches decided to forfeit the match, saying they would not continue to play after the incident. Later that night, as a sign of respect, SBHS forfeited the game in place of BHS, meaning BHS would officially win the game. 

The BHS JV players of color described the impact of the racist language. 

“It made me feel hurt, like we just don’t belong anywhere,” one of the involved students of color said. “I couldn’t believe no one tried to stop them…Other onlookers just stood up and laughed with [the instigator], which made me feel so much anger and pain.” 

When I got home, I couldn’t even do my homework. I couldn’t sleep. I just kept spacing out and having flashbacks of the night before

— Anonymous

The incident continued to affect the BHS students of color in the following days. 

“The bus ride home we were all crying and uplifting each other,” a second involved student of color said. “When I got home, I couldn’t even do my homework. I couldn’t sleep. I just kept spacing out and having flashbacks of the night before.” 

In a statement the SBHS volleyball coach sent to the BHS team, she informed the team that SBHS will be conducting an investigation to “fully understand the gravity of the situation and give consequences accordingly.”

On October 7, the SBHS and BHS girls volleyball teams gathered at the old BHS building to discuss the incident. The Athletic Directors for both schools were also present. 

During the meeting, the SBHS volleyball team apologized for the actions that occurred at their home. They stated they do not identify or stand with the students who made the racist remarks.  

Later, Ariana Cano Gomez, the BHS JV girls volleyball coach, called attention to the bigger problem. 

“I want the community to know that this is unacceptable and is stemming from a larger issue in this country,” Gomez said. “…This incident is a direct example of how we have to do a lot more work to ensure these narratives do not continue to infiltrate our communities.” 

Gomez expressed empathy for her players.

“I myself am an immigrant and have had slurs or comments about me or my family said to me,” she said. “This isn’t a new occurrence but having it happening to my JV team is devastating.”

During the following game, the JV and varsity captains each gave a statement to the press. Although the JV captain is a person of color and was directly affected by the racism, her statement was excluded from some news broadcasts.

“I’m really upset because I was only there as a supporting voice for these girls and [the news station] just completely cut them out,” BHS varsity captain Isa Masi, who identifies as white, said. 

The BHS volleyball team agreed that speaking up is necessary.

A JV student of color said, “It’s important we make changes in the world, so we need to talk about this and take it seriously.” 

UPDATE: 10/19/2021

After reviewing a recorded video of the girl’s volleyball game against SBHS, the Register can report that the SBHS spectator also told the BHS players to “Go back to the Drag show.” The recording is available for paid subscribers to ESPN. The comment references BHS’ drag ball, which took place during the school’s homecoming football game on October 15.  

Due to many competing voices, the racist statement is not audible in the recording. However, the reactions to the comment, from both the BHS players and the surrounding SBHS spectators, can be clearly heard.