Schools continue to deal with incident from Saturday’s Topeka High at Valley Center basketball game

13 News at Six
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 11:34 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka High’s boys basketball team lost a heart-breaker 75-73 in double-overtime Saturday at Valley Center.

But it’s what happened in the stands -- not on the court -- that continues to be talked about three days later.

During the hotly contested game, there were reports of offensive comments coming from the Valley Center crowd directed at the Topeka High team.

Topeka High boys basketball coach Geo Lyons said some of the comments crossed the line and were racist in nature.

“What happened at Valley Center, and the way the teams were treated, the boys team specifically, was flat-out racism,” Lyons said. “It’s that cut-and-dried.”

Officials from Valley Center Unified School District 262 told 13 NEWS Tuesday that they had sent a letter of apology to the Topeka Public Schools and to Topeka High School, in particular.

They added that they were working with Topeka High officials to determine whether any racist remarks were made during or after the game.

Valley Center officials said that as of Tuesday morning, administrators from both schools had not found any evidence that such remarks were made during or following the basketball game.

However, Lyons disagrees.

“A lot of people are trying to dismiss the fact of the racist acts and really just focus on the taunting that took place,” Lyons said. “The taunting you hear wasn’t the only taunting that took place. Other taunting that was used was: my players were called the “N” word; my players were called out of their name; my players were threatened with to be lynched during the exit of the game.”

USD 262 officials said administrators on duty that day did try to intervene and stop the behavior. Again, Lyons again disagrees.

“During the course of that time,” Lyons said, “not one administrator, not one adult working that game stood up for my team.”

Lyons Tuesday started a petition to ban spectators at Valley Center sporting events.

Topeka High principal Rebecca Morrisey said she was at the game and that efforts are ongoing between both schools to address the situation.

She was on the phone early Tuesday afternoon with Valley Center High School Principal Bruce Lolling seeking to continue to address the incident.

“We’ve worked closely,” Morrisey said. “I’ve been on the phone several times with the principal from Valley Center, who didn’t happen to be there Saturday because he had a family commitment. I believe firmly that they have taken this very seriously and that they’re working hard with their students and their broader community.”

Morrisey said she and Lolling are having “ongoing conversations” about how they can “work together to repair the harm that’s been done.”

Morrisey added that she spoke with the Topeka High basketball team on Monday and was proud of the way the players handled the situation.

“What they said is they hoped there is true change,” Morrisey said, “and that change comes from this, which I do believe -- a situation that is a challenge is an opportunity for true change.”

Morrisey noted that Valley Center is scheduled to pay a return trip to Topeka High next basketball season, and said she was confident that Topeka High fans would model exemplary behavior for their out-of-town guests.

Meanwhile, Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Tiffany Anderson sent a letter to Topeka High School families Tuesday afternoon.

The letter reads as follows:

“Dear Topeka High Families:

“The incident at the recent athletic game at Valley Center High School, during which students, staff, and families from Topeka High School reported being subjected to offensive racially charged comments, foul language and disrespectful gestures by members of the Valley Center High School community causes us tremendous concern and the behaviors have been reported to the athletic association and their administration. The school and district administration from Valley Center issued an apology to the school and district, which we appreciate; however, we remain concerned and agree with their superintendent, that “they need to learn and grow from this experience.

“We hope their district takes the appropriate steps to address what occurred with those involved. As we focus on our scholars in Topeka Public Schools, the principal, the coach and I met with our men’s basketball team yesterday to process what they witnessed and we commend our athletes and our coaching team for their sportsmanship, composure, and excellent conduct in face of adversity. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’

“The character demonstrated in the athletes on the Topeka High Men’s basketball team is outstanding and we applaud the team and the coaches who maintained a standard of excellence and demonstrated the ultimate measure of a man during challenge and controversy.” I am so grateful for our coaches, principal Morrisey and the mighty Trojans at Topeka High who modeled the conduct we expect from our students and we hope that it sets the example of what excellence looks like for others to learn from moving forward.”

Jeremy Holaday, assistant executive director of the Topeka-based Kansas State High School Activities Association, told 13 NEWS on Tuesday that the organization was still gathering information about the incident.

“The KSHSAA is aware of the situation that took place at the Valley Center vs Topeka High basketball game last week,” Holaday said in a statement emailed to WIBW. “We have spoken to both school districts and trust they are putting this at the forefront to be sure any wrongdoing or inappropriateness is dealt with swiftly and properly. We will work with both schools as the discussion continues this week.”

KSHSAA’s “Rule 52″ provides guidelines for fan behavior at athletics events. According to the rule, “non-supportive chants, cheers or actions which are directed toward the opposing team” are considered unacceptable.

On Tuesday morning, Valley Center Unified School District 262 provided 13 NEWS with the following statement:

“During a hard-fought boys’ basketball game between Valley Center High School and Topeka High School on Saturday, December 3, fans from both sides became very loud and involved.

“Valley Center High School principals, Mrs. Melissa Seacat and Mr. Chris Asmussen, did their best to handle reported situations, particularly those involving some students in the Valley Center student section.

“Near the end of the game, a Topeka player was fouled, and when he went to shoot his free throws, an inappropriate chant of “He’s a p****”erupted from the VCHS student section.

“Administration immediately began removing students involved and shifted to a proactive mode to prevent any further negative interactions as the game ended; an off-duty police officer also assisted in getting everyone to leave the game immediately after it was over.

“As part of a class at VCHS, a student who was assigned an infant simulator for a Human Growth and Development class brought the ‘baby’ with her to the game. The assignment requires feeding, diapering, rocking, and generally caring for the ‘baby’ all within proximity of the student ‘parent’ over the course of a few days. The student’s grade is based on the child’s care as recorded by an internal electronic device.

“Based on a review of videos, the baby was passed around between students during the game. While the ‘baby’ was not brought intentionally as a prop to taunt or threaten Topeka High School, without context, seeing the ‘baby’ and images of the ‘baby’ caused hurt and concern to many, and for that we are very sorry.

“We know that our students acted inappropriately and were not representative of our school district. As a result of Saturday’s game:

  • Valley Center High School administration spent this past weekend, most of Monday, and are continuing to investigate what transpired. They have reviewed video and have had countless interviews with those in attendance.
  • VCHS and Topeka High School Administration are working collaboratively to investigate claims of racist remarks being made. As of this morning (12/6), administration from both schools have not found any evidence that such remarks were made during or following the basketball game.
  • Valley Center Public School Superintendent, Dr. Cory Gibson contacted Dr. Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of the Topeka School District yesterday morning to offer an apology, and they have remained in correspondence since then.
  • As a district, we sent a letter to all VCHS families and students explaining there would be follow-up consequences for those students involved, and that we, as a community, should learn and grow from this experience.
  • As a district, Valley Center Public Schools sent a letter of apology to Topeka USD 501 and the Topeka High School community.
  • VCHS administration and student leaders are meeting to discuss how we can best move forward and demonstrate to all guests that we are a district that is inclusive and respectful.
  • Valley Center High School Principal Lolling and Dr. Cory Gibson have visited with many patrons from Topeka and Valley Center in the last two days. We have apologized and committed that we are better than what was exhibited on Saturday evening.
  • Additional support will be added at future games to help with supervision.
  • As requested by the local chapter of the NAACP, we are meeting this morning to talk about what happened and how to best move forward.

“Regardless of how the situation transpired on Saturday, the fact exists that people were hurt and are continuing to be hurt by what they experienced at our school. We are sorry. As a learning institution, we will take this event and learn from it.”

Valley Center Public Schools Superintendent Cory Gibson sent the following message to Topeka USD 501 and Topeka High School on Monday:

“Topeka High School community:

“We are aware of the inappropriate language and behavior exhibited by some of our Valley Center High School students at the VCHS vs. Topeka High School basketball game this past Saturday.

“First, we are sorry. We are better than the conduct we exhibited on Saturday. We would never want anyone in our schools, especially visitors, to feel insulted, upset, or disgusted by our behavior. The behavior exhibited was not in alignment with the values or teachings our district strives to uphold. We are embarrassed by this display and will work diligently to keep it from recurring.

“Second, we wish to assure you the situation is being addressed by the administrative team at Valley Center High School. Additionally, the administration team and basketball coaching staff are meeting with students including the Student Council to learn from this situation. In addition, USD 262 Dr. Cory Gibson has talked with Topeka School District Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson offering his apology to her and your community personally.Finally, we will do better. Thank you for sharing your feelings about your treatment at our high school. Please know we have heard you and we share in your concerns. We will use this experience to learn, grow, and improve.”

Valley Center High School is located just north of Wichita. It has 1,024 students and is in Class 5A, according to the KSHSAA website.

Topeka High was scheduled to be back in action Tuesday night with a game against St. Marys Academy.