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Richfield • Three black Summit Academy boys' basketball players say they were called racial slurs and chased from a convenience store shortly after their victory against Emery in the Class 2A semifinals on Friday evening in Richfield.
The harassment is the latest example of the racism black high school athletes face in rural Utah communities and the Utah High School Activities Association should consider moving the postseason tournament into more populated regions, said Bears coach Evric Gray.
Gray is one of four coaches who raised concerns about racism with the UHSAA in January. He said he has not seen any improvement, and believes there would be less casual use of racial slurs or offensive behavior by players or spectators in urban areas.
"The only time we have issues is when we play teams out in this area," Gray said. "We're kind of used to it, but at one point, I mean the kids can't even go to the store."
Racial taunts from the crowd began while the game was underway, he said. The Bears eventually captured the state championship on Saturday.
UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner said he was aware of the allegations. To investigate behavior at the game, the association would need to see evidence, he said. It does not currently plan to investigate the treatment of the players at the store because the incident doesn't appear to have involved coaches, students or representatives of a school, he explained.
Moving the tournament could be a potential solution, he said, but added, "I think the Emery supporters would be at the game if you held it at the University of Utah campus."
Summit Academy seniors Darrin Gethers, Armani Montgomery and Samuel Velez said they asked Gray for permission to grab snacks and drinks at a convenience store down the street from their hotel, the Quality Inn, after the Friday night victory.
When the players entered, they said, five males, roughly 18 to 21 years of age, a 16- to 17-year-old female, and "an older lady," all of whom were wearing Emery's yellow color, were inside. The older woman began insulting them, they said.
"We grab our drinks and we get in line. They're not in line," Gethers said. "They're just staring at us, and she says, 'You're lucky you didn't get kicked out the game, you jack-.' I was like, 'Yeah, you're right.'"
The players said the group followed them outside, yelling racial slurs, which frightened them into running across the street. Shortly thereafter, they said, two white males in a silver vehicle pulled alongside them.
"They said, 'F- you [N-word]. Get out of here,'" Gethers said.
Added Velez: "We braced ourselves 'cause I thought I was going to get hit with something."
Nothing was thrown from the vehicle, which drove off after the exchange. The players immediately told their coach what had occurred. Gray relayed the information to Summit Academy principal Ted Mecham, who contacted police.
Officers were called to the Quality Inn at 11:50 p.m., according to Richfield Police Detective Sergeant Trent Lloyd. Gethers, Montgomery and Velez described the incident as Gray and Mecham listened.
Lloyd said an official witness statement was not filed. He said, "They told our officers they did not want to fill out a statement, they just wanted to document it."
Gray said they were under the impression they were following the proper procedure.
There are inconsistencies in the players' accounts, Lloyd said. "I believe something happened, but it sounds like it's contained between Emery and Summit Academy."
The clerk told an officer she "did not see or hear anything like that, but she said it was a busy night," Lloyd said.
He said he plans on examining video from the store to "see if anything happened," but noted: "I expect there won't be. Even if there is, it's not going to give me the sound, just a fact that the people were there at the same time."
He continued: "I don't see any evidence of a crime based off what they told us. I will, however, let the county attorney review it."
If the players' account is true, Van Wagoner said, the incident was "completely unacceptable behavior." But, he added, "the Activities Association has no jurisdiction over what regular people do on city streets."
UHSAA assistant director Ryan Bishop said the association is continuing to talk about the concerns raised by coaches in January.
"There are conversations going on [with the executive committee board of trustees] with what direction we are going to go with some of the regions," he said. One challenge, he said, is dealing with "how we go back, how we further train and educate, what the feedback is from the regions" in the middle of an ongoing season.
"Am I comfortable with the situation? No," he said. "Am I comfortable that the conversation is happening? Yes, I'm comfortable."