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Catholic Memorial students banned from attending semifinal game

At the game on Monday night, Catholic Memorial supporters donned school colors and erupted in applause whenever the team scored. It was unclear if any current students attended.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

At the game on Monday night, Catholic Memorial supporters donned school colors and erupted in applause whenever the team scored. It was unclear if any current students attended.

Catholic Memorial administrators banned their students from attending the high school’s championship basketball game Monday at TD Garden, after some students chanted anti-Semitic taunts at a game Friday against Newton North High School.

The ban, coupled with a pledge to better educate the student body about intolerance, drew approval from the Anti-Defamation League and others, though some students and alumni criticized the punishment as unduly harsh.

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“There are no excuses for the actions of the student-spectators who took part in the chanting,” Catholic Memorial’s administrators said in a statement Monday. “Their behavior was appalling; their actions and words do not align with the teachings or the value system of our school or the Catholic Church.”

The attendance ban angered some who thought the school was unfairly depriving its entire student body of a rare chance to see Catholic Memorial play on the Celtics’ parquet floor, beneath the Garden’s banners.

With nearly undefeated Catholic Memorial preparing to face Cambridge Rindge and Latin for the Division 1 Eastern Massachusetts title, some Knights supporters mounted a “#freeCM” campaign on Twitter and urged fans to turn out in droves.

At the game, hundreds of Catholic Memorial supporters donned school colors and often erupted in applause when the team scored. It was unclear if any current students attended, though young alumni filled the stands.

The school, the defending Division 1 state champions, lost 77-73. Some players buried their heads in their hands when the final buzzer sounded.

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But at least one Knight player looked to the stands on the way out and clapped in an apparent nod to the team’s supporters. Many in the Catholic Memorial section gave their team a standing ovation as they left the floor.

Clad in a Catholic Memorial sweatshirt, David Wheeler of Canton said his grandson — a junior captain on the Knights football team — was “very disappointed” that he could not attend.

“It was unfortunate,” said Wheeler, 63, during the game. “You go to any high school game, the student sections are going to kind of battle back and forth with chants.”

Catholic Memorial’s order for all students — except those on the team — to stay home came after an estimated 50 to 75 of them taunted Newton North High School fans, many of them Jewish, with choruses of “You killed Jesus!” before a state tournament game won by Catholic Memorial Friday night.

As noise in the gym ratcheted up before tip-off, some Newton fans began the taunting by mocking the all-boys Catholic school with chants of “where are your girls?” and “sausage fest,” which some construed as homophobic. Newton North’s interim principal Monday addressed all 2,100 students at that school over the intercom, calling for tolerance and noting that perception matters as much as intent.

But it was the escalated response — “You killed Jesus” — by many in the Catholic Memorial student section that left some in the Newton North stands speechless.

Over the weekend, news of the taunt prompted outcry from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and generated national attention.

Officials at Catholic Memorial, based in West Roxbury, quickly reached out to Newton administrators and to the ADL, promising to address the issue with immediate school assemblies when classes resumed Monday and with long-term curriculum changes.

Catholic Memorial leaders also contemplated pulling their basketball team from Monday’s big game but decided against it after consultation with Newton North. Instead, they ordered student fans to stay away from the Garden.

Robert Trestan, executive director of the ADL’s Boston office, said he was heartened by the school’s response. The students who shouted the epithet may not have realized the full weight of what they were repeating, but the administrators clearly understand that it is “an ages-long anti-Semitic myth that perpetuates hatred toward Jews and fuels anti-Semitism,” Trestan said.

“They have embraced this as an opportunity to educate their community and prepare their students for the world around them,” Trestan said.

Newton Superintendent David Fleishman said he appreciated the thoughtfulness of Catholic Memorial’s administrators. No school is immune from intolerant behavior, and educators must work constantly with students to cultivate a fully accepting climate, he said.

“Newton North is a diverse high school where students from different backgrounds generally feel comfortable going to school, [but] like all schools we have issues,” Fleishman said. “It’s really important that we be vigilant when we see language or actions that violate our core values.”

Catholic Memorial officials declined to answer how they enforced the ban on attending the game at the 18,000-seat Garden.

Near campus, many students leaving Monday afternoon declined to comment. On Twitter, some were bolder. One who identified himself as a senior said he wanted to “ask @realDonaldTrump for help to #freeCM.”

Another senior tweeted, “I’d love to say how I really feel about this, but that would probably just make things much worse for me.”

Catholic Memorial’s board chairman declined to comment Monday, citing the school’s statement. Some alumni of the school — a hockey powerhouse that has seen its basketball fortunes soar while the hockey team has struggled recently — are still smarting over the dismissal last year of hockey coach Bill Hanson, who won 17 state championships in 38 years. This episode could increase tension between alumni and administrators, said Conor Jennings, a 2010 graduate.

“A lot of us feel the student body should have been addressed and the kids reminded why their comments were hurtful, especially given the church’s history with the Jewish community,” Jennings, a South Boston native who works as a hockey writer and bartender, said by e-mail. “Banning the kids from going to the Garden just makes [the school’s president] look like he bowed down to the P.C. crowd that needs every little incident to have serious repercussions.”

In Newton, many found the “You killed Jesus!” taunt especially jarring as it came one night after Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley spoke of the need to “build a civilization of love” while addressing 700 congregants at Temple Emanuel.

The archbishop’s visit commemorated the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican proclamation that reversed centuries-old Church doctrine holding the Jews as a cursed people, repudiated the charge that the Jews killed Jesus, and stressed religious harmony.

Administrators at Catholic Memorial School vowed to make changes after students made anti-Semitic chants during a basketball game Friday night against Newton North High School.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Administrators at Catholic Memorial School vowed to make changes after students made anti-Semitic chants during a basketball game Friday night against Newton North High School.

Globe correspondent Mina Corpuz and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at eric.moskowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.
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