*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***
                                                                          January 12, 2009
NYS Division of Human Rights
Thomas D. Shanahan
cell (347) 431-8408

    The New York State Division of Human Rights today released a comprehensive investigative
report on an alleged racial incident at a girl’s junior varsity soccer game on October 4, 2008.
Division of Human Rights Commissioner Galen D. Kirkland stated: “We were very pleased to
assist both School Districts and the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (“STAC”) with an
investigation into an incident which had the potential to seriously damage relations between
these neighboring communities in the Southern Tier. After a thorough investigation, we are
unable to definitively conclude if racial epithets were actually used. Our agreed upon role was to
provide remedial guidance, rather than punitive sanction, and that is what we’ve done.”

    The Division’s investigation was commenced after a meeting on October 23, 2008 at the
Division’s Binghamton Office attended by Commissioner Galen D. Kirkland, Division Regional
Director Michael Kendall, Horseheads School District Superintendent Ralph J. Marino, Jr.,
Vestal School District Superintendent Mark Capobianco, and President of STAC, Richard
Stank. At the meeting, both Superintendents requested that the Division conduct an impartial
investigation into the alleged use of racial epithets by Vestal players and fans towards
Horseheads players. After interviewing all available witnesses and examining both written and
video evidence, a preliminary report was issued to the parties for comment. The Schools
Districts and STAC reviewed the preliminary report and had the opportunity to comment. The
final report was then issued.

   Among the Report’s conclusions are the following:

   •   The overwhelming majority of attendees at the October 4th game, including players from
       the Vestal and Horseheads teams, spectators who support both the Vestal and Horseheads
       teams, both referees, and the coach of the Vestal team, heard no racially derogatory
       language on that day.

   •   A number of players on the Horseheads team and the Horseheads coach believed that
       they did hear such racially abusive language. The team attempted to address this
       unacceptable situation in the manner they knew best, by alerting the game officials. The
       Horseheads team also alerted the Vestal coach prior to leaving the facility, albeit after the
       team had left the field of play before the game was concluded. The Horseheads team
       received no support regarding their serious concern and chose to discontinue the game.

   •   Game play is monitored by a universally accepted set of written rules and enforced by
       two game officials. Among these rules is the requirement for a designated game manager
       to deal with unusual incidents during a game, with the further requirement that the
       officials bring any issues to the attention of this designated individual. While a site
       supervisor was assigned by Vestal, there is no indication that such individual was
       identified to the referees or that the referees made any attempt to report or otherwise
       address Horseheads repeated concerns regarding racially derogatory language during the

   •   One of the two referees was new to this league and was being monitored by the senior
       partner during this game in an evaluative capacity. The evaluator did not intercede when
       the new referee failed to review the sportsmanship rules with both teams prior to the

   •   The Horseheads team correctly determined that their concerns were not addressed, as the
       referees took no action. This perception of inaction was reinforced when the Vestal
       coach immediately dismissed their legitimate concerns.

    In its report, the Division recognized: “The events of this game had a significant impact on
the community of both schools, and the resulting controversy that followed was increased
following the heightened media coverage... As a result, the belief that a hostile racial attack not
only occurred but was permitted was fostered in the minds of many individuals. This lack of any
[perceived] response [left] individuals who perceive[d] that they [were] victimized isolated, but
embolden[ed] the minority of individuals who would support the type of odious behavior that has
been alleged.” To avoid future incidents, the Division made eight recommendations in order to
communicate clearly that both School Districts and all members of STAC repudiate any form of
racial violence or denigration. Among those recommendations are:

   •   Amending the code of conduct and sportsmanship for each school and STAC as
       necessary to specifically prohibit the selection of any player based upon a personal
       characteristic as opposed to their athletic ability. Additionally, expand the code’s
       language to recognize the independent value of each player and their personal
       background. Specifically prohibit any language from players, spectators or officials that
       attacks an individual or group of people based upon their personal characteristics,
       including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or economic status.

   •   Consistently and vigilantly enforce the suggested code, adopting the philosophy of
       inclusion into the vision statements of the school and league by monitoring the behavior
       of student athletes, recognizing that they are role models for their community and fellow
       students. The Horseheads code of conduct defines and requires positive citizenship
       behavior, and these guidelines could serve as a model for a League-wide standard.

       Specifically prohibiting any behavior that condones or promotes intolerance by student
       athletes, including the wearing or displaying of symbols of divisiveness, is recommended.

   •   Implementing a mechanism for teams to alert officials of any violations of the above
       suggested code and require officials to address these complaints in a prompt manner.
       The proposed STAC guidelines do establish a prescribed in-game procedure to address
       issues that may arise. It is recommended that this policy identify specific prohibited
       behaviors that would result in a game interruption, including personal attacks against

   •   Educating students, parents and school personnel that any kind of retaliation
       against students or others because they have participated in school-sponsored
       investigations is a violation of school policy and not permitted. This should include
       information that if a complaint of discrimination is filed under state or federal
       law, retaliation against those who have opposed discrimination or have complained,
       testified or assisted in proceedings can be unlawful.

   •   At the District’s discretion, convening a supervised meeting between the respective teams
       and coaches, no sooner than 30 days after the final issuance of this report. The purpose
       of this meeting would be to provide a forum where the players can safely express their
       concerns regarding the events of the game in question.

   •   STAC should review the Report’s findings, as well as the internal reports completed by
       the respective schools, and consider what options exist regarding the final outcome of the
       game, as game play was not completed due to this incident. Possible options could
       include amending the final score to reflect a draw or replaying some or all of the match.

    Commissioner Kirkland closed by stating: “We thank both Superintendents, STAC President
Stank, and all the members of the Vestal and Horseheads Communities who participated in our
investigation. We hope that our efforts will assist in bringing closure to this painful incident,
and provide guidance to the Southern Tier Community on how to avoid similar incidents in the

  The full report is available on the Division’s website at:


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