LIGONIER — The West Noble girls soccer team wants you to know something. Enough is enough.
Before the game against Lakeland on Monday, eight of the Charger soccer players displayed signs that had various messages including, “SAY NO TO RACISM”, “WE ALL BLEED RED!” and “LOVE HAS NO COLOR.”
The girls decided to display these messages during the starting lineups because of racial barbs being directed at the Hispanic girls on the team during a recent game.
“I feel like the girls have experienced some discrimination going against other teams, and the girls were really upset. I’ve never experienced that, because I come from a big school, where there’s diversity and a lot of minorities. For that being said, I think it was a really cool experience for me to be like, ‘Oh, I can support these girls,’” West Noble coach Jennifer Reyes said on Thursday. “I can really help these girls out, and it’s about them giving me the ideas and coming to me so I can support them. I can’t tell them ‘You have to do this.’ It’s really great that they came to me about and wanted to make a change.”
Reyes said her girls have heard racial discriminatory words by different teams since they were playing soccer at the middle-school level.
“We played a game and after that game, they were completely distraught,” Reyes said. “Hearing them and what they had to say, I couldn’t even sleep. I had to think about it a lot. I was like, ‘What do I do as their leader, as their role model, as their captain?’ Reaching out to those girls that have been showing that captain role, and being like, ‘What do you want to do? Think about your ideas, and let’s talk about it with the athletic director and I. We’ll see what we can do about it.’”
Reyes canceled last Saturday’s practice to instead have a discussion with the girls and West Noble athletic director Tom Schermerhorn about what they heard on the field and what changes can be made.
“I think there was time someone listened to them, because they even said that themselves,” Reyes said. “Nobody has ever said, ‘Hey, let’s take a practice to talk about bigger things than, soccer that are going on. For them to come to me and say, I said, ‘Yeah, let’s not practice. Let’s talk about what’s going on.’ At the end of the day, that’s their perspective going into the world, and that is either going to be harmful or better people.”
The biggest thing that came out of the discussion was educating opposing teams, their fans and even the referees about how they will not tolerate any racial discrimination during matches.
“I think that hurts their perspective on other people, and that’s what I don’t want because everyone is not perfect, everyone makes mistakes. So being able to learn and instead of fighting with hate and being able to educate those people,” Reyes said. “I hope it’s not and there should be no tolerance for it. If it is, then I think they should speak up like the girls are doing.”
Schermerhorn said on Saturday things have gotten better at West Noble over the last 20 years with things that have been directed towards Hispanic athletes. He told the girls that and said he supports their plan to bring awareness.
“We talked through how it’s changed and how it’s not changed. I think overall our athletic director has done a great job of changing it, but the girls probably haven’t seen a drastic change of it. Determining how much it’s changed, I think that’s where the girls are blindsided from it. So being able to tell them what the athletic director has done, what they’re trying to do and letting them know that they are being heard. The things that are being said to higher ups aren’t just put aside or hidden away and are getting taken care of.”
Both Reyes and Schermerhorn said the girls felt like the West Noble community has been very supportive of them.
“Our community backs us up here. I think it’s mostly going outside of the community and getting uncomfortable in other places where we find that’s where the discrimination is,” Reyes said.
Reyes hopes this experience doesn’t affect her girls poorly down the line. Instead, she hopes they continue to speak up about things that are said. Ultimately, she wants them to take pride in who they are.
“This can either hinder their perspective about the people that said those things and think that race is all that way or they could think, ‘OK, I have friends here that aren’t the same race, but I’m friends with them.’ Being able to understand that there used to be a culture of that, and our generation is trying to change that and convert it into ‘This is the land of immigrants.’ Being able to open to that and be prideful of their own skin is the most important thing that I have kind of instill in them, because I love my Mexican food. I love speaking Spanish. I use that as an advantage. Overall, letting them know that it’s a prideful thing. No one should ever take that from them.”