Prior Lake, New Prague incidents bring racism in high school sports to the fore

On Wednesday, the Prior Lake High School girls basketball team decided to forfeit the remainder of its season because of a racist note a player found in her equipment bag. Sophomore Achai Deng said she found a message saying, “Get off our team monkey.”

“It’s sad that I should not have to feel pain to the fact that they call me a monkey other than the fact that they disrespect me,” Deng said.

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She said she isn’t surprised, though.

“A lot of Black people can say they got used to racism. It just doesn’t phase them. It’s like an everyday thing,” Achai said. “It’s sad. I should not have to feel pain.”

The school says it is investigating the incident.

“We are deeply saddened and distraught over yet another racial incident that occurred within the PLHS community,” Prior Lake administrators and girls basketball coaching staff said in a letter to the team’s families. “Our hearts go out to the victim, her family, and all of our BIPOC students and athletes as we continue to work toward an environment of equity and inclusion.”

Prior Lake High School previously made headlines this school year when a Black student was targeted in a racist video that was circulated on social media.

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Park and Robbinsdale school districts vowed not to compete with New Prague High School over racist incidents directed at their students.

New Prague students and supporters allegedly used racist taunts at a boys hockey game with St. Louis Park High School on Feb. 15. During a girls basketball game against Robbinsdale Cooper High School that same day, New Prague spectators hurled racist remarks and monkey noises at the opposing team’s Black student-athletes.

All three schools are members of the Metro West Conference, and New Prague was inducted as a new member this school year. In a letter to New Prague, St. Louis Park Athletic Director Andrew Ewald referenced his initial trepidation toward letting New Prague join.

“As I said when New Prague High School was applying to the Metro West Conference, ‘I will not stand for your community and students to have teachable moments at the expense of our students,’” Ewald wrote. “Therefore, I will not tolerate or allow our students to further experience any racism while participating in athletics against New Prague High School.”

New Prague Area Schools Superintendent Tim Dittberner says his district is working on a plan to try and improve the current climate and repair the harm that’s been done.

“I think this obviously has caused us to really look at opportunities to how we’re educating our students and changing how we’re working with them with race and culture,” Dittberner said. “I think we also got to really take a look and review and improve what we possibly have with our policy.”

A coalition of Minnesota education organizations, including the Minnesota State High School League, is working to address problem behavior following a series of racist incidents involving high school athletics.

“Recently students, schools and communities have experienced racist events that tell us we as school leaders have more work to do,” a memo dated Thursday states before detailing steps to foster “a safe environment in which to learn and participate in activities.”

Some of those steps include bringing student groups together to create a “model code of conduct” that will be sent out to school boards, parents, teachers, students and coaches; convening a student conference to raise awareness on bullying, race and gender issues; and compiling resources to help schools and administrators develop best practices for ousting “harmful behaviors” and support the victims who are affected by them.

Thursday’s memo from state organizations explains that MSHSL rules prohibit racial, sexual or religious harassment of any kind, and “violations of the policy require the loss of student eligibility.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has asked the MSHSL what action it is taking in response to the alleged racist incidents but has yet to hear back.