High School Basketball Coach Quits Due To Student Racism

The Mahopac (N.Y.) High School boys basketball coach resigned yesterday, two weeks after students and players at his school were accused of using racist language towards an opposing team during a playoff game.

Kevin Downes, who is black and a graduate of Mahopac, said he will no longer coach the team, due to the controversy that left several Mahopac students suspended for tweeting racist remarks at Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) players after Mahopac lost to Mt. Vernon, 43-40, in the Class AA Section 1 semifinal on Feb. 27. From the Journal News:

One characterizes Mount Vernon residents as "monkeys"; others refer to absent Mount Vernon fathers.

One reads, "One of the few biological Mount Vernon fathers just tried to sell me crack outside the county center."

Mt. Vernon's players also accused Mahopac's players of saying similar things on the court, though administrators weren't able to find any proof in an investigation.

A few days after Mahopac students received suspensions, the Journal News released another report claiming that poor behavior from some Mahopac students wasn't a one-time occurrence. A former athlete from New Rochelle (N.Y.), who is black, said he dealt with slurs when he played against Mahopac.

But former New Rochelle football and basketball player Joe Clarke, who plays both sports for Dean College in Franklin, Mass., said Mahopac players in both sports called him the "N-word."

"No other school but Mahopac," said Clarke, who played both sports for four years at New Rochelle.

Clarke, who said he experienced no problems with Mahopac players until his senior year, said at one point during a football game at Mahopac in 2012, he caught a pass, was tackled and then, while on the bottom of a pile of players, was scratched, punched and called the N-word.

Writer Jeff Pearlman, who graduated from Mahopac, also wrote about the racist behavior of some in the community when he was younger after hearing that Downes had left.

Being Jewish is not the same as being black. I can hide and blend in a predominantly white, predominantly Christian area, whereas an African-American person cannot. However, I do believe my experiences growing up in Mahopac were somewhat similar to Kevin's—both in the good (quality schools, lovely neighborhoods, safety) and the bad. Back in the day, I had pennies thrown at me. I was referred to as a "Cheap Jew" repeatedly. In my yearbook, someone actually scribbled JEW JEW JEW JEW JEW all over a bunch of pages. I once had a teacher who made a joke about "burning Jews" during the Holocaust. My closest friend, who was African-American, had two crosses burned in his yard. He heard the n-word repeatedly. I still remember him walking up my street, some uncomfortable older neighbors staring. When I was, oh, 12 or 13, a petition on a nearby street was signed by myriad people. The cause: A black family was considering moving in.

Downes, who successfully coached the team for seven years, said the most disappointing part of the ordeal was how members of the community didn't react or care until the media portrayed them a certain way. It only became a problem once Mahopac's image was in jeopardy.

"I still think there's a lot of good people there. I don't think it's everybody. Certainly, that's how people are looking at it now, but I still thought it was enough," he said. "I just felt like it would be hard to go back and feel like I was 100 percent supported."

[Journal News | Jeff Pearlman]