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Emery High School has rejected claims of racism made against the school and its fans by Summit Academy players and coaches who said they endured racially-loaded insults during and after a Class 2A semifinal game between the two schools last month in Richfield.
Emery principal Larry Davis said in a statement released late last week that an internal investigation conducted by the school confirmed one instance of "inappropriate" behavior, and he acknowledged there may have been other possible isolated incidents. But he denied claims by Summit Academy coaches Evric Gray and Hector Marquez, and three of their players, who said they were the victims of multiple racially-motivated attacks by Emery team members or fans on Feb. 26.
"Our school has been impugned based on a single cowardly post," Davis said in the statement, referring to a Feb. 27 Facebook post by Marquez. "Any school administrator will tell you that there are those few within each student body who maintain less than the highest standards of ethical behavior. To condemn an entire school, school district, or rural region because of that is unjustified. Where we have erred, we apologize. Where we have been erred against, that is a matter of personal conscience beyond our control."
Gray, who was one of four coaches who raised concerns with the Utah High School Activities Association in January about their teams receiving racially-motivated abuse during road games, said Monday that he wanted to put the issue behind him.
"I'm kind of over it," Gray said after reading the Emery High statement. "We won. Let's just everybody move on. The response I have is, there really is no response."
Summit Academy players Darrin Gethers, Armani Montgomery and Samuel Velez and Gray told The Tribune last month that Emery supporters called them racial slurs during the game. In his Facebook post, Marquez wrote: "The visiting fans were chanting "USA, USA, USA" ignorantly thinking that our American Players [sic] were less American then [sic] them."
Davis said the investigation provided evidence of students chanting "USA" one time. He said that the students were "misinformed" and "the chant was inappropriate and exhibited poor sportsmanship."
But he claimed the chant "was not racial in nature, nor meant to be vulgar."
Davis denied allegations of racial slurs being used by Emery team members or supporters. "Our investigation has led us to conclude that this likely did not happen, and if so, it was very isolated and may not have even come from anyone directly associated with our school."
He said the Emery County School District and Emery High athletic department probe included interviews with students, coaches, players, fans and school officials, including the district superintendent and an Emery High assistant principal who attended the game.
Davis also contested the claim by Marquez on Facebook that an Emery coach called one of the Summit Academy players a "son of a b."
"That's not to say it didn't come from somewhere, but to say it came from our team is not accurate," Davis said.
Gray, however, said the Emery coaching staff apologized to them after the game for the exchange.
"[Emery coach Todd Jeffs] apologized to one of our board members for what one of his assistants said," Gray said. "If he denies that, he's lying."
The Summit Academy players also claimed they were chased from a Richfield convenience store after the game by a group of males, between 18 and 21 years of age, a 16- to 17-year-old female, and "an older lady," all of whom were wearing Emery's school colors.
The players said the group followed them outside, yelling racial slurs, prompting them to run across the street in fear for their safety. Shortly after that incident, they said, two white males in a silver vehicle pulled alongside them and yelled another racial epithet.
Davis said several persons of interest have surfaced in connection with the convenience story incident, and those names were referred to the Emery County Sheriff's Office and the Richfield Police Department. The Emery principal said both law enforcement agencies have made no connection to "our students or anyone associated with our school."
According to Richfield Police Detective Sergeant Trent Lloyd, official witness statements were never filed, though Gray said they provided officers the information. Richfield Police Lieutenant Alan DeMille said his department "can confirm we got surveillance video [from the convenience store]. There was no incident viewable on that video. ...We did not see anything inappropriately done on the video."
Davis said that Emery High takes full responsibility for the behavior of students involved in student activities, including those who ride buses, but when students travel independently and then leave the event, the school has no oversight.
Davis congratulated both Summit Academy, which eventually won the state 2A championship, and runner-up Layton Christian, but he said he remains unhappy because he feels that his school was tainted in the process by "comments posted on social media."
He added: "These matters could have been handled in a more professional manner rather than tossing allegations into the wind without any attempt to discuss them in person with the officials from schools he claims to be racist."