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Burlington High football player says team is working to change its 'culture' amid racism allegations

Burlington High football player says team is working to change its 'culture' amid racism allegations

BURLINGTON — A Burlington High School football player is defending his teammates against racism allegations, saying that the team has worked to instill a new “culture” this season.

Colin Szymankiewicz, a senior linebacker and a captain on the football team, told school board members on Monday night that the team has been working to overcome issues from previous seasons.

While Szymankiewicz did not explicitly deny the new allegations that football players directed racial slurs at an opposing team, he said he does not believe his teammates would engage in such misconduct.

“We’ve been doing so good this season, and everything is so positive,” he said. “We’re getting a bad name and a bad rap.”

The Burlington Area School Board also heard from parents and others about the allegations stemming from Friday’s football game played in Burlington against Westosha Central High School.

Troy Moldenhauer told the board that his own adopted children of color were at Friday’s game, and they were subjected to racial slurs. But the hurtful insults, he said, came from parents rather than other students.

Moldenhauer said while he applauds Burlington teachers and staff, he said children are facing bad influences inside their own homes.

“Racial slurs were thrown at my sons by parents over and over during the entire game,” he said. “My kids are taught to love, and I’m really proud of them.”

School board members took no action and offered no response on the football team matter.

BASD officials earlier said they were investigating the allegations by trying to interview students, coaches, referees and others who might have witnessed what happened Friday night. Officials said the district would not tolerate racist behavior and would consider taking disciplinary action against those responsible, if the allegations are found to be true.

Central High School District of Westosha officials are cooperating with the investigation.

A group called the Burlington Coalition For Dismantling Racism said Saturday that allegations were surfacing that unidentified Burlington football players had directed racial slurs toward Westosha players following Friday night’s game, which Burlington won by a score of 20-17.

Burlington school officials later confirmed that such allegations were under investigation. At the time, the school district urged parents to stop letting their children use racial slurs.

The district also noted that Friday’s incident incident occurred on the same night that the football team and its fans were marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Laura Bielefeldt, a representative of the anti-racism coalition, told school board members Monday that it appeared as though the district was using the 9/11 anniversary to deflect criticism from the alleged racist behavior.

“It is completely outlandish,” Bielefeldt said. “Whoever issued that statement should be ashamed of themselves.”

Another speaker, Tom Coleman, told the school board that whoever is making accusations against the football team should be held accountable. Coleman claimed that similar accusations last year were found to be untrue.

“It’s creating allegations against good students, and our district isn’t going to do anything?” he said.

After an unnamed football player last year was accused of using racial slurs against an opposing team member — also on Westosha Central — the district determined that the player had used vulgar language, but could not confirm if any racial slurs were used.

In his remarks Monday to the school board, Szymankiewicz said Burlington faces many racially diverse teams, usually without incident. He credited first-year head coach Eric Sulik with working to change the team atmosphere in Burlington.

“We’re pushing this culture this year, that we’re professionals, we don’t need to talk,” he said. “We can let our playing do the talking.

“We’ve been doing really good this season. This is kind of a setback.”

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