Spencer High School

Spencer High School in northwest Iowa. 

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SPENCER | Some Storm Lake parents and fans are upset over incidents that happened at high school basketball games in Spencer last Friday.

Spencer fans chanted “USA” at the ethnically diverse Storm Lake delegation visiting, and local students reported some racial slurs aimed at the visitors and cases of Spencer fans jingling their keys at Storm Lake players and yelling, “lock your car doors.”

The incidents follow others during other sports — including some Spencer fans telling Storm Lake students, “Go back where you came from” — after a football game last season.

The schools have tried to combat the situation, with an unique student exchange where kids from each school spent a day in the other's building and classes.

Storm Lake High School Principal Beau Ruleaux said he did not become aware of the basketball incidents until the following day, when he started getting texts reporting “some ugly situations.”

He said the school administrations have communicated about the situation. “I’ve know the Spencer High School principal for years, and I know she felt horrible about what happened. We’ll keep moving forward. We want to keep the spirit of this rivalry — there’s nothing wrong with a sports rivalry as long as we make sure there is respect too, and that we’re not displaying hatred,” Ruleaux said.

The principal noted Storm Lake has a rivalry with neighboring Cherokee as well, and there was spirited chanting at games at that school recently. “But they kept it clean, and the players for both teams showed a lot of good sportsmanship on the floor helping each other up and so on.”

He noted that Spencer was hosting Storm Lake on an “USA Night” for the school, and did not feel that was aimed at the visitors. Storm Lake also has several theme nights during sports seasons.

“Some slurs seemed to be happening randomly during and after the game, probably involving only a few people,” Ruleaux said.

Storm Lake students said that concerns were expressed to Spencer staff monitoring the game, but no action was taken to stop the behavior.

“It depends on perception. Some of our students said it wasn’t bad, and some were offended. Some of the adults I talked to said it wasn’t really a problem, and some thought it was horrible,” Ruleaux said.

Neither school is sure where the “lock your cars” comments came from. Ruleaux said he isn’t sure if it was a “personal jab” meant to imply that the Storm Lake students are criminals, or a threat. He noted that some fan bases in college sports have in the past jingled keys in the crowd as a “not in our house” message.

Storm Lake fans did not respond much to the incidents during either basketball or football games.

“This is not to say that we’re always innocent. People get heated during rivalries. And we don’t always know what is going on in the kids’ world with social media going back and forth,” Ruleaux said.

“We’re proud of our kids, for the most part they live up to the standards we want them to. A lot of times, I think the Storm Lake students have shown a lot of restraint.”

SLHS will continue to stress positive interaction, but Ruleaux said the message will be to “not let a few bad things overshadow the overall good.”

He said that he thinks the political climate is contributing somewhat to both racial tension and reactions to racial slights.

“I think things will improve moving forward,” he said.

Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. 

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