Having been in this area six months now, I have noticed the vast difference between schools in and around the Pasadena area. Some schools are heavy in minorities while other schools – whether public or private – are not. The basketball games have been fun to watch and there have never been any incidents, certainly not to the extent of what happened recently at a Mater Dei-Servite boys basketball game. Steve Fryer at The Orange County Register reports.
More claims of racial issues at Servite
The school works on improving the situation after racial taunts, but others say the problems aren’t new.
By STEVE FRYER
The Orange County Register
Servite’s campus was “turned upside down” after racial taunts students directed at Mater Dei players, but the revelations prompted a former athlete and an ex-Servite strength coach to share their experiences with intolerance involving the school.
ESPN broadcaster Doug Gottlieb, a former Orange County player of the year for Tustin High, said Friday what he heard on an ocvarsity.com video from the Jan. 9 varsity boys basketball game was “indefensible and reprehensible.”
“But I’d seen it before,” said Gottlieb, who said Servite’s “Pit Crew” hurled anti-Semitic remarks at him in the ’90s.
Lou Smith, a former Servite strength and conditioning football coach, said racial tensions existed at the school and in its football program when he was there less than two years ago. He said he was fired for informing the Servite administration of the situation.
Dr. Ted Lawton, a Servite alumnus and past president of the school’s alumni association, said “the campus has rightfully been turned upside down” as Servite deals with the aftermath of racial comments and noises directed at black Mater Dei players.
Servite president Peter Bowen said the school will more closely supervise the “Pit Crew” cheering section and is providing specific directions on what sort of cheering is unacceptable.
“We take full responsibility for our mistakes,” he said. “We see this as an opportunity to get at deeper issues that lie within our school and exist at any school.”
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Smith, the Friars football program’s strength and conditioning coach for the 2007 season, said that year he received a phone call from a the mother of a black Servite player that fliers had been placed in the lockers of other black Servite athletes.
Smith, 52, said the mother told him the fliers instructed the black athletes to leave the school.
“A mother called me up,” Smith said Friday, “and said they were passing out fliers in lockers that said they all wanted the black athletes to go back where they came from.”
Bowen said he was unfamiliar with the fliers incident described by Smith.
Smith also said he was told that he should pay more attention to Servite’s black players than the white players.
“What I was told was, ‘We want you to watch these black athletes and make sure they’re working out,’” said Smith, a personal trainer who went by Lucious Smith when he played football at Cal State Fullerton and for the Rams before stint as a strength and conditioning coach. “They thought they were lazy.”
Smith declined to identify the coach who gave him those orders.
He also said he witnessed a racially charged incident on the Servite campus.
“When I was there,” Smith said, “there was a white-black confrontation, and the ‘N’ word was used. This stuff has been going on more than just last Friday night.”
Smith referred to Jan. 9 game at Servite, where racist sounds and remarks from the Servite Pit Crew were directed at two black Mater Dei players. A video at ocvarsity.com captures monkey noises made by members of the “Pit Crew” when Mater Dei’s Gary Franklin, who is black, has the ball.
Bowen said Friday that Servite issued an apology Tuesday to Mater Dei and continues to work on establishing a meeting with Mater Dei administrators to further address the matter.
Bowen said Servite is acting vigorously to ensure the Pit Crew improves.
“The Pit Crew will be receiving directions on what it can do,” Bowen said, “and it will be much closer supervised to make sure cheers that are inconsistent with our ‘See Christ, Be Christ’ attitude not be made.
“Whether differences are racial, gender, sexual orientation or anything else, we should see Christ in everybody we play and never treat them otherwise.”
When Gottlieb, an ESPN college basketball analyst and a radio talk-show host, read about the racist comments and noises made by Servite students and watched the video, memories were revived.
Gottlieb, who is Jewish, was the county’s player of the year for Tustin in the 1994-95 season. Tustin and Servite were then together in the Golden West League, and Tustin played a varsity basketball league game at Servite.
“They had that Pit Crew,” Gottlieb said, “which actually is a great atmosphere when all the students show up like that. But they were throwing anti-Semitic slurs at me, and throwing pennies on the court and saying ‘pick them up.’”
Gottlieb travels for ESPN to many campuses for college basketball games, and has seen the antics of college basketball student-body cheering sections. He also witnessed them as a player at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.
“When I read your piece and saw the video (of the Mater Dei-Servite game on ocvarsity.com),” Gottlieb said, “it looked indefensible and reprehensible. But I’d seen it before. Whatever oversight is being done on those kids is not nearly good enough.”
Lawton, a Servite alumnus and past president of the Servite Alumni Association, said he hopes that “this terrible negative can be turned into a big positive.”
“When this all first came out,” said Lawton, a pulmonary physician who was not at the Jan. 9 game, “within a couple of days I heard from no less than 20 alums and parents about what happened. I was embarrassed and that was the consensus of the alums I talked to. As the days unfolded and more light got shed on it, I started to become more proud of what the school was doing in terms of trying to remedy the situation.
“I’m still in close contact with people at Servite and I know that the campus has rightfully been turned upside down over this. Servite is a microcosm of American society, and this is a societal problem. What the Pit Crew did that night was blurt out this societal problem.”
Smith, the former strength coach, said he sent to Servite administrators an e-mail that described how Smith saw the way the football program was being conducted and changes he thought were necessary. Soon afterward, Smith said, he was fired by Servite football coach Troy Thomas.
“I got fired,” Smith claimed, “because I wrote that e-mail. They said what I did was outside the chain of command. I think they didn’t like what I said in the e-mail.”
Bowen refuted Smith’s description of why Smith was fired.
“I don’t believe that account,” Bowen said. “I think Coach Thomas just wanted to go in a different direction with the strength and conditioning program.”
Thomas did not respond to an interview request made via voicemail Friday afternoon. Mater Dei administrators did not respond to requests for comment Thursday and Friday.
Still, Smith said, even with what he sees as needed changes at the school and in the football program, he likes Servite.
“The football program still is a really good program,” Smith said. “I would send my kids there. But they have to make adjustments in how they’re communicating with everyone there. If they did, then this Mater Dei-Servite incident would not have happened.”
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