UPDATED: Fairfax County and Arlington schools call for diversity training after football dispute

Updated at 7:30 p.m. — The superintendents of Fairfax County and Arlington public schools say the Virginia High School League should mandate diversity and inclusion training for all high school athletes, coaches, and officials after allegations of racism at a football game between Marshall and Wakefield high schools led to escalating tensions.

Stating that their divisions “embrace diversity and strongly condemn hate speech and racial intolerance of any kind,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand and APS Superintendent Francisco Durán called the incident “an opportunity to take a step back and discuss how actions have consequences and that our words can deeply hurt others.”

“This situation has deeply affected both school divisions, our families, students, and our respective communities,” they said. “In recent days, it has provoked strong emotions in both communities, and has become divisive by pitting schools against one another. This is not about one team versus another; it is about our students and how we can come together to support them and take necessary actions to ensure this situation does not repeat itself. Our students deserve better.”

Brabrand and Durán added that FCPS and APS will both “provide training and education for our athletes, coaches, and staff so that, together, we are all working to support students.”

The full statement can be found on the Fairfax County Public Schools website.

Earlier: Members of Marshall High School’s football community, including the coach, players, and parents, are refuting previously reported accounts of racist taunts against the Wakefield High School football team.

On Wednesday (March 17), Wakefield students came forward detailing their experiences in which they allege being called the n-word and “boy” during a game against Marshall High School on March 5. One student said he was spat on.

Wakefield players and parents have started a campaign calling for accountability from school athletics officials, including a petition demanding “an immediate apology” from Marshall and its football program that has garnered almost 5,000 signatures.

Arlington Public Schools confirmed that an incident occurred, and Fairfax County Public Schools said it had investigated and is addressing the reports, but in the last 24 hours, Marshall community members have issued statements and written letters disputing the Wakefield players’ accounts.

“Our players, coaches, and parents refute these allegations whole-heartedly,” Coach Jason Strickland said in a letter to the school community. “I believe our players, coaches, and parents because I did not witness nor have I been shown actual proof of these accusations occurring.”

Following up on the letter, an FCPS spokesperson said Strickland’s response addresses a “highly charged situation.”

“Families, students, and community members are upset and emotions are high. Regretfully, harsh words and accusations on social media have also contributed,” she said in a statement. “It would not be unusual for a coach to want to communicate directly with his or her players and their families about an intense matter that been publicly escalated by multiple parties.”

Parents of students at Marshall also penned a statement that refuted every claim made by the Wakefield community and criticized media reports for being one-sided.

“We at Marshall High School are defending the players of the Marshall Statesmen football team for remaining strong and resilient regarding the allegations of racism and other slanderous remarks by Wakefield High School players,” the statement said. “There is no culture of racism and bigotry at Marshall High School on the football team.”

They also said Wakefield students called Marshall students the n-word and other derogatory names. Further, they added, Marshall students had to wear masks, so they could not spit on students. Coach Strickland confirmed that Marshall was enforcing mask-wearing during the game.

“The players deserve the suspension for fighting. Reversing this would be a mistake,” their statement said. “There is no responsibility taken on the part of the Wakefield players, who were also penalized throughout the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Multiple sources confirmed that four players involved in the incident — three Wakefield students and one Marshall student — were initially issued three-game suspensions that were later reduced to one game each.

In a video from the broadcast supplied to Tysons Reporter, two players — a Wakefield and Marshall player — appear to get very close. The Wakefield player puts his hand up to his face and others lunge at the Marshall player, whose team affiliation can be distinguished by his red socks.

In social media comments, including responses to Wakefield player Lukai Hatcher’s original Instagram post, some users who identified themselves as current and former Marshall High School students said that they knew of people, or were themselves, on the receiving end of racial and homophobic slurs from athletes and students.

“As someone who goes to Marshall I can definitely say that I have experienced racism from other classmates,” one commenter said.

Another commenter challenged the characterization of Marshall’s athletic teams contributing to “a culture of racism.”

“As a very recent Marshall football alumni, I am saddened to see this disgusting act and lack of sportsmanship,” the user said. “I don’t know why you believe that Marshall has demonstrated a culture fo [sic] racism through their athletic teams. I never heard of or witnessed any acts of racism in my time at Marshall as a student or as a member of the football team. With a predominately black and minority coaching staff, I don’t understand how that would contribute to a ‘culture of racism.'”

In a letter sent to the school community on Thursday, Marshall Principal Augie Frattali said FCPS conducted an investigation and worked with the Virginia High School League and Wakefield in determining the appropriate response.

The full email from Strickland, who says it expresses “how my coaching staff and I feel about the situation,” has been reproduced below:

Good Afternoon Statesmen Family,

I want to start by saying, my staff and I do not allow nor promote our
players committing unsportsmanlike conduct or acts of racism or
bigotry from our teams/program in school, practices, games, or the
community. We have multiple races and cultures within our program, and
we never want to offend any individual or group in anyway.

The incident that occurred on March 5th, was between two competitive
players from Marshall and Wakefield, that unfortunately got out of
hand that included both teams. From our perspective, the officials
allowed this situation to grow throughout the game where it came to a
head at the end of the game. We saw it was very competitive between
the two players throughout the game. But at no point did we see or
hear any of the accusations that are being said about our players,
coaches, or parents. This is the first time that we have experienced
something like this in my three years at Marshall. So to say there is
a history of these accusations, I also do not agree with.

Our players, coaches, and parents refute these allegations
whole-heartedly. I believe our players, coaches, and parents because I
did not witness nor have I been shown actual proof of these
accusations occurring. No one is perfect, but I just do not believe
these accusations. They have never exhibited any such behaviors, and I
stand by my team, our families and our school. If you have any
specific questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask or communicate
with me. GO STATESMEN!!!!

Jason Strickland

Mathematics Teacher

Varsity Head Football Coach

George C. Marshall High School

The statement from Marshall parents has been condensed and reprinted below:

Marshall v Wakefield Football Game: The Facts Behind the Stories

We at Marshall High School are defending the players of the Marshall Statesmen football team for remaining strong and resilient regarding the allegations of racism and other slanderous remarks by Wakefield High School players.

There is absolutely no culture of racism and bigotry at Marshall High School on the football team. The head coach, Jason Strickland, and many assistant coaches are African American, the only white coach is a female. The players of color on Marshall have refuted the claims of the Wakefield players. The Marshall coaches have stated no racism issues have ever come up with this team. Coach Strickland is highly respected, as are his coaches by the Marshall Statesmen football team.

First let me start by saying that the Marshall coaches have stated no racism issues have ever come up with this team. Allegations of racial slurs by our players, are just that — allegations. Our coaching staff questioned the players accused, and those players who were near to the altercation and no one heard any racial slurs uttered by Marshall players during the game.

It is important to note that the Wakefield players waited 4 days (after receiving suspensions) to allege that they were the victims of racial slurs. Coach Strickland reported nothing was said on the night of, or the immediate days after the game. A few other facts to share as follows: Marshall high school players are required to wear face masks to play at all times, Wakefield does not require facemasks. It would be difficult if not impossible to spit on someone while wearing a facemask. The student in question at Marshall was questioned and said he absolutely did not spit on anyone. The fight happened immediately after the game ending play when Marshall sacked the Wakefield quarterback to turn the ball over to Marshall with less than 2 minutes left, and Marshall in the lead. After that play, the Wakefield player pulled the Marshall player down to the ground by his facemask and Marshall players retaliated. Watch the video, the Marshall players are wearing red socks.

The athletes on both teams involved in the altercation were given a three-game suspension, and then all were reduced to one game. Marshall played a game on March 12, where those players completed their suspended. Wakefield had a bye week March 12, their players need to sit out for the March 19 game. Wakefield athletes are stating they should not be suspended. There is outrage in the Arlington community, news stories and now a petition on asking for “a reversal of the suspension for the attacked players”. We are asking that the press and the public please watch the video and see who attacked first, it is very clear. The players deserve the suspension for fighting. Reversing this would be a mistake. There is no responsibility taken on the part of the Wakefield players, who were also penalized throughout the game for unsportsmanlike conduct. It is clear they were involved in the fighting and clear the Wakefield player started the physical altercation. Again, please watch the video for the evidence.

The timing of these wrongful allegations is questionable at best, almost 2 weeks later on the eve of the night those players need to sit out a game for suspension. That appears to be the motive for something that ended 2 weeks ago and is now resurfacing with new allegations that Wakefield athletes are victims of racism. A Wakefield player was heard to using a racial slur on one occasion and other Wakefield players using derogatory comments throughout the game directed at the Marshall players. We in the community are deeply saddened by these comments, we are working to change the narrative of this story today.

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