The use of racial epithets to harass and intimidate is always repugnant, but it was heartening, in the aftermath of such an incident, to see the town of Lunenburg rally around 13-year-old football player Isaac Phillips.
Phillips is biracial. After his home was spray-painted with a slur, several hundred people attended a Nov. 17 rally supporting him. Many of Phillips’s neighbors and teammates helped create banners showing their support, and local politicians spoke out against the vandalism. Subsequently, Lunenburg school superintendent Loxi Jo Calmes canceled the remainder of the high school’s football games.
Family members said that the vandalism was just the latest of a number of unsettling incidents. Phillips, who plays on both Lunenburg’s freshman and junior varsity teams, allegedly had his cleats doused in water and his bike tires slashed. The family maintains Lunenburg coaches could have done more to protect the boy from abuse, and the police chief expressed the hope that canceling the games would increase the pressure on the vandalism culprits to come forward.
Canceling the rest of the season will surely disappoint players who were uninvolved in any harassment, but there are signs of a deeper problem within the football program. Worcester school officials confirmed that earlier in November, both a varsity game and a junior varsity game between Lunenburg High School and South High Community School in Worcester ended in fights after Lunenburg players allegedly taunted their opponents with racial slurs. (Lunenburg High School’s athletic director Pete McCauliff did not return messages seeking comment.)
The Lunenburg Police Department has begun an investigation into the vandalism, and a police spokesman said that the FBI and Worcester County DA’s office are involved, primarily in an advisory role. But regardless of the eventual findings — and whatever role some high school athletes might have played — the people of Lunenburg have already shown they’re willing to take a vocal stand against intolerance.