An image from an online petition to keep Weld Central High School's controversial rebel mascot.
An image from an online petition to keep Weld Central High School's controversial rebel mascot.

Schools Say There Was No Confederate Flag at Manual Game — Sort of

Tempers flared at a September 22 football game between the Weld Central High School Rebels and Denver's Manual High School Thunderbolts over claims about the display of a Confederate flag made by Manual principal Nick Dawkins, among others. Weld Central reps subsequently denied anything like this actually happened, and now, Dawkins has signed on to a letter released just shy of 9 p.m. last night, September 26, that absolves the visiting team and blames unidentified spectators for trying to bring in a flag. However, the document, on view below, doesn't address other assertions made by Dawkins about injuries to Manual players and the alleged use of racial slurs by some members of the Rebels.

Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg, another signatory to the letter, had an ugly day on the 22nd. Hours before the Rebels and the Thunderbolts took the field, he released the results of an investigation of East High School related to videos showing cheerleaders being forced into splits this past June. The inquiry found fault with principal Andy Mendelsberg and assistant principal/athletic director Lisa Porter, whose de facto ouster (he retired, she resigned) prompted a demonstration by numerous parents and students.

The Manual matter was just as contentious. In a letter to parents also shared here, Dawkins explicitly said the Weld Central squad showed off a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the match-up. He added that "we asked them to remove the flag and they did so. However, the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field. Three of our players were injured during the game, including a student who suffered a concussion and a student who was transported to the hospital for a leg injury. I want to emphasize that the players received treatment and will be fine. In addition, some of our players reported that, when tackled, players from the opposing team taunted them with racial slurs."

These assertions fired up plenty of folks in the education community, including DPS boardmember Rachele Espiritu, an appointee being challenged in the November election by Auontai "Tay" Anderson, a past president of Manual's student body whose age — eighteen at the time he announced his bid — has earned him plenty of press coverage.

"I am deeply troubled by the events at the Friday night football game between Manual and Weld Central," Espiritu maintained in a statement. "As an immigrant, it comes as no surprise to me that racial tensions exist. It is, however, surprising to see it permeate high school athletics in such a noticeable way. While I do not believe that Weld Central intentionally meant to be hurtful or threatening by using their longtime symbol of a Confederate flag while playing a game against a team with a large minority population, it is obvious that damage was done regardless of intentions."

Rachele Espiritu, a Denver School Board member running for re-election, issued a statement about the flag controversy over the weekend.
Rachele Espiritu, a Denver School Board member running for re-election, issued a statement about the flag controversy over the weekend.
Courtesy of Rachele Espiritu

Espiritu added: "We must be intentional and purposeful about evaluating the symbols we use, and the legacy those symbols bear. For a select few, that flag represents heritage. For the majority, it represents fear, oppression, and an era we have done our best as a society to leave behind. Particularly after the events of Charlottesville, it is high time for every organization that uses the Confederate flag to sit down and reconsider the message that they are sending. The hate and fear wrapped up in that flag outshines any heritage it represents — so I urge Weld Central HS and every other organization that flies the Confederate flag, please, reconsider the message you are sending."

Weld Central principal Dan Kennedy and Weld Central Re-3J School District superintendent Greg Rabenhorst responded to such criticism with a missive of their own — it's here, too — in which they argued that "our team and community were unfairly represented with what appears to be significantly inaccurate information presented to the Manual community and the media."

Kennedy and Rabenhorst went on to assert that "the facts as we know them today do not support the claims reported by Manual officials. It was reported that our spectators displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the game. Our eyewitness staff and community members present at the game report that this did not occur. Multiple school officials have viewed a video recording of the game which contains footage of the Weld Central crowd. From our viewings, no signs of a Confederate flag exist. Further, we have no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior on or off the field. High school administration was present and monitored student and crowd behavior throughout the game. At no point was any behavior displayed that required intervention."

Since these contradictory accounts carried the threat of open warfare between the two districts, it's no surprise that the latest letter seeks a middle ground in which neither side is accused of lying about what happened. "Based on what we have learned to date," the text notes, "the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag. At the same time, multiple Manual eyewitnesses reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images."

The authors — supposedly Dawkins, Kennedy, Boasberg and Rabenhorst, but you can bet lawyers were involved as well — make no mention of the alleged injuries or racial slurs. Instead, they stress that "the Confederate flag plays no role in Weld Central, and neither school condones symbols or acts of racism."

While Weld Central administrators eschew use of the Confederate flag, backers of a petition to keep the school's mascot, who looks like a Southern general during the Civil War, are much more comfortable with it, as seen in the image at the top of this post. The disconnect between official policy and reality complicates a situation that perfectly encapsulates today's racial divide.

Continue to see the latest letter, followed by the text from the original Manual and Weld Central takes.

Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg in a 2013 file photo.
Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg in a 2013 file photo.
Photo by Melanie Asmar

Joint statement about alleged flag incident

Sept. 26, 2017

Dear Manual and Weld Central High School Communities,

We as school leaders and superintendents are joining together on the common ground we share – our deep love for our students and our communities, and our profound belief that our mission as educators is to build bridges of understanding.

This past weekend has been difficult for both our communities, and we want to move forward in a way that supports learning and healing. We know there are greatly conflicting accounts as to what occurred Friday night, and we also know that, despite our best efforts, we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened. Based on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag. At the same time, multiple Manual eyewitnesses reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images. To be clear, the Confederate flag plays no role in Weld Central, and neither school condones symbols or acts of racism.

Our focus now must be on working together for the sake of our students. Together, we are laying the foundation for a Student Leadership Exchange between our schools, one in which student leaders from both schools come together and share ideas and perspectives. As part of the exchange, our student leaders will have the opportunity to visit each other’s schools and communities. We believe we have much to learn from each other.
As we work together, we encourage our students, families, educators and community members to focus on moving forward and building bridges. At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together.

Sincerely,

Principal Nick Dawkins
Manual High School

Principal Dan Kennedy
Weld Central High School

Superintendent Tom Boasberg
Denver Public Schools

Superintendent Greg Rabenhorst
Weld County School District Re-3J

Original Manual statement

Sept. 23, 2017

Dear Manual High School Community,

I hope you are enjoying this wonderful first fall weekend! I apologize for the Saturday email but I want to ensure you are updated about what occurred at our Friday night football game with Weld Central High School. What occurred is extremely concerning and I want to share the facts as I know them at this time.

Last night, the Weld Central High School team, which has a Rebel mascot, displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the game, offending many members of the Manual community. We asked them to remove the flag and they did so. However, the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field. Three of our players were injured during the game, including a student who suffered a concussion and a student who was transported to the hospital for a leg injury. I want to emphasize that the players received treatment and will be fine. In addition, some of our players reported that, when tackled, players from the opposing team taunted them with racial slurs.

I spoke with one of the team’s coaches at the game and am following up with their high school principal. Our superintendent, Tom Boasberg, and our Board of Education have been notified and Supt. Boasberg is reaching out to the Weld County superintendent to express our concerns that such symbols of racism and hatred, and racial slurs, ought to have no place in athletics or in any part of our students’ experiences. We are all very concerned about what occurred and are trying to gather as much information as we can so we can determine next steps. Please know that we are not aware of similar issues occurring when we played the Weld Central High School team last season. However, based on the information we have been able to gather, what happened at Friday night’s game is unacceptable.

I will keep you updated as we move forward and please feel free to reach out to me.

Thank you,
Nick Dawkins
Principal

Original Weld Central statement

Sept. 24, 2017

Weld Central and all Re-3J families,

Many have heard the reports about the WCHS football game against Denver's Manual High School this past Friday. We have been asked to make an official statement by several media sources. While the investigation is not complete, we feel it is important to update our community on the matter and to strongly denounce any form of racism.

As of today, evidence supports that our team and community were unfairly represented with what appears to be significantly inaccurate information presented to the Manual community and the media. The facts as we know them today do not support the claims reported by Manual officials. It was reported that our spectators displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the game. Our eyewitness staff and community members present at the game report that this did not occur. Multiple school officials have viewed a video recording of the game which contains footage of the Weld Central crowd. From our viewings, no signs of a Confederate flag exist. Further, we have no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior on or off the field. High school administration was present and monitored student and crowd behavior throughout the game. At no point was any behavior displayed that required intervention.
We are not certain what may have led to what currently appears to be false accusations toward our team and spectators. Our administration will continue to investigate what happened, work collaboratively with Manual administration, and seek intervention from CHSAA as appropriate. At this point we have unilaterally cancelled future competitions with Manual High School until further notice.

The Re-3J Board of Education and administration do not condone any form of racism, including symbols of racism and hatred and racial slurs toward or about others. That type of behavior is unacceptable and far beneath the standards and expectations of our student code of conduct. As we investigate the incident to its completion, any behavior of this form found to be true will be subject to discipline. In the event any accusations are substantiated, we as a district will take full responsibility in condemning such behavior and disciplining students as appropriate.

We want to assure all of our community members and those communities we interact with that we do not tolerate racism of any form. The Confederate flag and any other symbols of hate and racism play no role in our district. We hope that you will join us in condemning racism in all communities, including our own.
Thank you for your support of our students, the Weld Central community, and students across Colorado.

Greg Rabenhorst
Superintendent of Schools

Dan Kennedy
Principal, Weld Central High School

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