A Santa Maria Times video of students at Righetti High School chanting "where's your passport" at rival St. Joseph during a Tuesday night basketball game has sparked heated reactions on social media about what is seen as racism towards St. Joseph players from France and Puerto Rico.
However, students at Righetti are saying that's only half of the story.
Righetti students who were at the game said inflammatory chanting that night was started by students in the St. Joseph section, who allegedly were chanting racist remarks at Righetti earlier in the game.
Two Righetti students who asked to remain anonymous, one of them due to concerns of retaliation, said members of the St. Joseph student section yelled comments at Righetti about how they would be pumping their gas someday, and chanting "where's your green card."
While both student bodies have a large Hispanic population, Righetti is known in the region for having more Hispanic students and fewer white students than St. Joseph, with Hispanic students making up 63% of the student body.
St. Joseph High School administrators on Wednesday dismissed the notion that a chant from a group of Righetti High School students at the end …
According to 2017-2018 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Hispanic students make up 38% of the St. Joseph student population, while white students make up 34%.
In Facebook comments on the video, multiple individuals asserted that St. Joseph students had shouted the comments at Righetti before the video was captured, as well as at past games.
Righetti students said in response they threw their own digs, shouting "where's your passport" to target out-of-area players on St. Joseph's team.
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"The SJ students were chanting at our student section that we would be filling them up with gas in the future, so we shot back with our chant, it's simple trash talk," one of the anonymous students said in a written message to the Santa Maria Times. "They were also throwing their own racist remarks at us before our chant. They were yelling 'where's your green card' at Righetti."
A media statement from Kenny Klein, public information officer for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, said the incident is being addressed by both officials at Righetti as well as the school district. St. Joseph does not fall into the district because it's a private school.
While many people were upset, there were also students, parents and alumni from both schools who shared on social media that such rivalry is nothing new between the two schools, and that in this case, this specific chant by Righetti was highlighted misleadingly.
While some individuals on social media alleged the St. Joseph section never talked about green cards on Tuesday night, floods of responses suggested that trash talking each other has been a key part of the rivalry between the schools for some time rather than an isolated event.
One Facebook commenter, who identified himself as a St. Joseph parent, said the anger around the "where's your passport" chant was an overreaction compared to other chants that have happened in the past.
"During the football games when St. Joe's is beating Righetti and St. Joe's chants 'Jesus doesn't love you.' I think that's more offensive than a recruiting thing," Rick Milanesa said.
The private school's enrollment of student athletes has long been a point of tension between the two rivals, with members of the Righetti High School community alleging the unfairness of playing against out-of-area students.
A Feb. 7 tweet by the Righetti sports Twitter about a championship win by women's basketball spoke to the tension regarding St. Joseph's recruiting practices, reading "That’s 4 Championships in the last 5 years... and they don’t have to recruit overseas !!!"
St. Joseph athletic director and basketball coach Tom Mott faced allegations of recruiting athletes outside CIF guidelines during his time as coach and athletic director at Mission Prep in San Luis Obispo in 2006.
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Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.