Fred Brewington, attorney for the Roosevelt Union Free School District,...

Fred Brewington, attorney for the Roosevelt Union Free School District, talks to the media on Thursday, May 4, about what he said was racist behavior students experienced while taking part in basketball games against neighboring schools. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Officials with the Roosevelt school district plan to meet in a sportsmanship hearing with representatives from the Lynbrook and Wantagh systems and the Nassau County Public High School Athletic Association after Roosevelt filed a notice of claim last week over alleged racist comments made at two varsity playoff basketball games.

Civil rights lawyer Frederick K. Brewington, who represents the Roosevelt district as special counsel, confirmed Monday the groups will meet, but a date has not yet been set. Brewington filed a notice of claim alleging supervisors at two boys varsity games in February had failed to intervene when fans hurled racial slurs at their athletes and demonstrated other unsportsmanlike behaviors.

Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which governs Nassau County interscholastic sports and Section VIII's sportsmanship committee, said Monday that they are "waiting for confirmation from all of the attorneys involved to be available on a mutual date. We're trying to get this scheduled as soon as possible."

Brewington said the hearing is "just one aspect of the Section VIII process, but that does not limit the parties and the districts from reaching into their own personnel, reaching into their own school families and starting to make real change that will avoid these type of things in the future."

What to know

  • The Roosevelt school district filed a notice of claim last week, alleging supervisors at two recent boys basketball games had failed to intervene when fans hurled racial slurs at their athletes.
  • Roosevelt officials alleged spectators at the games - one in Lynbrook and a second in Wantagh - used racially derogatory language and demonstrated other unsportsmanlike behaviors.
  • Representatives from the three school systems and the regional athletic association are set to meet in a sportsmanship hearing, though a date has not been determined.

The notice of claim was delivered Thursday to both schools, Brewington said. A claim of notice is a prerequisite before a lawsuit can be filed against a school district and other educational entities.

The Lynbrook and Wantagh districts declined to comment through a spokeswoman that represents both districts, but confirmed they had received the notice of claim.

According to the notice, some spectators in attendance at the first-round playoff game Feb. 15 at Lynbrook High School taunted Roosevelt's cheerleaders, spitting at them and using racially derogatory language.

The notice said that at a game at Wantagh High School on Feb. 17, Roosevelt students faced similar offenses from fans. Roosevelt cheerleaders were called a racial slur and subjected to vociferous booing and verbal abuse, and some fans flashed the middle finger at them.

When Roosevelt's team was introduced, fans in white T-shirts and sweatshirts stood up in the bleachers and turned their backs "as a sign of disregard and disrespect," the notice read.

Roosevelt is seeking an outside investigation and demanding Lynbrook, Wantagh and the regional athletic association "engage in meaningful actions to address and remedy this overt and condoned level of racial prejudice and abuse,” according to the notice.

Brewington, at a news conference Thursday, said Roosevelt's student-athletes were subject to horrid behaviors at the games.

“They were barked at as though they were dogs. They were spit on,” Brewington said. “Not a single thing happened with regard to the referees. Not a single thing happened with regard to stopping what … led to an unsafe, unhealthy and unproductive situation."

On March 2, Roosevelt athletics director Eamonn Flood sent a complaint to Pizzarelli regarding the two incidents.

In the complaint, obtained by Newsday, Flood wrote that some Lynbrook students were misbehaving and Roosevelt worked with Lynbrook to identify and remove them from the game.

“We are thankful to the staff from Lynbrook for their quick response, but are deeply saddened and disturbed that this type of language and behavior was directed toward our cheerleaders," Flood wrote in his complaint to Section VIII.

Two days later, at Wantagh, "The student section of Wantagh, wearing all-white shirts, turned their backs on the Roosevelt team and booed vociferously" during the pregame introductions of the Roosevelt players, Flood wrote in the complaint.

"During the game, they chanted 'Who's your Daddy' when a shot was blocked," Flood wrote. "Our cheerleaders reported that the students from Wantagh flashed the middle finger at them throughout the game.

"We need to recognize that this behavior was insensitive and the implicit bias by the student section of fans does not have a place in our schools, society or athletics today."

Flood wrote Wantagh students rushed the court at the end of the game, and the Roosevelt coaches — fearing the situation could escalate — had their players head to the locker room without shaking hands. Wantagh won the game in an upset.

The adults in the gym — coaches, referees and other supervisors — did little to stop the harassment, Roosevelt officials said in a news release.

Pizzarelli said his organization followed the procedures for a complaint of this nature. An earlier sportsmanship hearing had been postponed after Roosevelt came to the scheduled March 9 hearing with a lawyer, Pizzarelli said. 

“That's why we had no choice but to cancel that initial meeting until both sides could be represented,” he said.

"All incidents that are reported to us by our officials or school administrators are investigated by the Section VIII sportsmanship committee," he said. "Officials are tasked before every game in every sport to read the New York State Public High School Athletic Association sportsmanship statement. And they read it to the entire team and the coaches before the game."

Brewington said details in his claim were amended to include the March 2 complaint from Flood. Roosevelt said Lynbrook personnel did not intervene until the Roosevelt staff "forced that the matter be addressed."

A copy of the notice has been sent to the state Education Department as well as the state Attorney General's Office, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

The state Education Department said it is aware of the issue and has been in contact with district officials.

Rose Gietschier, Roosevelt's school board president, said Thursday that she teared up when she saw a photo of the fans with their backs turned at the Wantagh game.

“My heart cries out for our students and our children to have been treated in such a disrespectful manner, degrading and humiliating them,” Gietschier said. “They should be learning at sporting events: camaraderie, sportsmanship and teamwork.”

With Gregg Sarra

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