Whether they look back with warm nostalgia or cold indifference, most adults would agree they learned some valuable lessons in high school beyond what they were taught in the classroom.
Some Peters Township High School students haven’t had to wait for adulthood for that reality to become apparent.
The lessons those students are learning stem from the Oct. 30 home football game that pitted Peters against Woodland Hills High School. The only notable aspect of that game should have been that Peters walloped Woodland Hills by a score of 39-6. But the triumph of the football team was overshadowed by a colossal faux pas committed by the Peters marching band. When the ensemble came marching out onto the field, two drum majors were dressed in full-body, black spandex suits. To many people on the sidelines and in the stands, it looked like the students were wearing blackface. If you look at photos, it appears that, yes, the students are in blackface.
This would be problematic in any circumstance, but the fact that the student body of Woodland Hills is 60% Black made it even worse.
Officials with Peters apologized profusely, and an investigation by the district found that there was no racist intent in the costumes. But the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL), the body that governs interscholastic sports throughout the region, said the incident “negatively impacted” students and coaches from Woodland Hills, as well as fans who traveled to Peters to see the game. That being the case, it has prohibited the marching band from performing at any WPIAL event for at least six months, and is asking the school district to submit a plan to confront the type of “social and racial insensitivity” displayed at the game. The district was also placed on probation by the WPIAL until next Oct. 31.
Though this appears to have been more the result of blind spots than design, the punishment is appropriate.
Shelly Belcher, a spokeswoman for the district, has acknowledged that there were “multiple missed opportunities for adults present at the game to address the costumes prior to the students entering the field.” This indicates an embarrassing lack of awareness about how the costumes could have been perceived extended beyond the students, who can be excused for some youthful folly.
The WPIAL has said that it hopes that the incident will be a catalyst for change in the Peters Township School District. It should serve as an example for other districts as well. We noted a couple of weeks ago that it already is being used as a case study in an education class at Washington & Jefferson College.
James Longo, the retired chairman of W&J’s education department, said, “I hope there’s going to be a lot of listening from this.”
We hope so, too.