‘It Is Unbelievable’: Atlanta High School Soccer Player Suspended by GHSA from Biggest Game After Speaking Out About Alleged Racist Taunts from Opponents; Other Team Faces No Penalty for Reportedly Hurling N-Word

A Georgia high school soccer team is celebrating after winning a state championship — an experience that initially was soured when the team learned one of its top players wouldn’t be playing in that game.

The player, who is not being named to protect his privacy, was issued a red card by a referee during a Friday, April 28 match during which he and his team reportedly were subjected to racial slurs. By Georgia High School Association rules, an athlete is not allowed to play in the following game after being issued a red card.  

Georgia high school soccer players compete in a game. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Carpenter)

GHSA ruled to uphold the suspension of one of the members of the boys’ soccer team at The Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia, ahead of the Tuesday, May 2 state championship match. The player reportedly complained to a game official about racial slurs being hurled at his team by players from Armuchee High School in Floyd County, Georgia.

Paideia faced off against Armuchee in the April semifinal matchup, pulling off a 5-0 victory that sent the team to the state championship, but it came at a cost.

Players and parents reported that they heard Armuchee boys yell racial slurs at their team. Students who wanted to send a message about racism wore T-shirts with the words “No Room for Racism” to the May 2 championship game.

“It is unbelievable and heartbreaking that your child has to experience this, during one of the most important times of their career, and for it to be tainted by abject racism,” said Tia Alvarez-Stith to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Alvarez-Stith’s son is a sophomore on Paideia’s team.

“None of us were prepared for that. It is horrible to have your child be demoralized when they are supposed to be celebrating.” 

Alvarez-Stith and other parents said that their sons had to experience rough play, but aside from that they reportedly were called the N-word several times.

The complaints were met with yellow cards and warnings from referees. The player from Paideia who was suspended had received a red card for reportedly taunting the Armuchee players by running to the team’s bench and pointing at players after he scored a goal. He was ineligible to play in the state championship game.

Paideia’s athletic director submitted a request to have the suspension lifted but learned on Tuesday that GHSAA denied that request.

“We are following our rules and going by the game report and officials,” said Robin Hines, executive director of the GHSA, to the newspaper. “Ejections are not reviewable.”

Hines added that parents and the Paideia community reported hearing the racial slurs, but the officials never reported actually hearing them.

“The officials did not hear anything. It was reported to them, but they did not hear it,” Hines said. “If they had heard it, they would have sanctioned it. All we can go by is what the evidence shows.”

Sulé Carpenter, the father of Paideia player Niko Carpenter, sent a letter to Armuchee High School and the chairman of the Floyd County School Board, the school’s district.

“I am extremely disappointed that, in 2023, my son had to experience this level of racism and bigotry. He deserves better,” Carpenter, who spoke to Atlanta Black Star, wrote in the letter. “He left the field feeling defeated. Instead of celebrating his victory during the car ride home, we had to have a long discussion about racism. The behavior of your players reflects poorly on your school, its administration, staff, students and their families.”

Armuchee High School reportedly didn’t return any phone calls but responded in a letter that said the school was investigating the incident. Floyd County school superintendent Glenn White has said the investigation found his students never used racial slurs.

Paideia athletic director Mike Emery sent a letter to the Paideia community that said the team “did their best to navigate a high-stakes game against players using hostile tactics,” according to the AJC.

“Our boy’s team was subjected to racial taunts by players on the opposing team resulting in heated emotional and physical behavior on the field,” Emery wrote. “Paideia players, parents and coaches left the game upset and disappointed, which added to the heavy emotions we have been feeling all week.”

Emery also contacted GHSAA to report the incidents.

Hines said state policies against racist, profane and abusive language are strict.

“It is simply not tolerated at all under the code of sportsmanship,” Hines said. “But it has to be proven or documented.”

Sulé Carpenter and his wife Natalie told Atlanta Black Star that an officer at the game intervened and had a conversation with the referees to urge them to get control of the hostile play on the field. They said that there was a brief pause in the action and the referees talked with both head coaches. They don’t know what was said during that conversation because they were in the stands, but they expressed that nothing changed afterward.

“Niko never had an experience like this before. He’s never had to experience racism firsthand or confront it. I am from Los Angeles and never had to deal with it,” said Natalie Carpenter, Niko’s mother, to Atlanta Black Star.

“I had to dig deep in my past to remember a time that I’ve had to deal with racism and it was only once,” Sulé Carpenter said. “I was a young boy. So, it was hard to have this conversation with him after the game, but it definitely was a life-changing experience.”

“Our son left the field feeling defeated. We were supposed to be celebrating with a slice of pizza like you normally would in those situations, but instead, we were having a conversation about racism,” he added.

The Carpenters also told Atlanta Black Star that they would like to see the GHSAA code of conduct be addressed.

“We did this to let our son know that what took place on Friday was not right and we will fight for him. We will be the voice for him as his parents to stand up to things like this and teach him that this is not okay,” said Sulé Carpenter.

Armuchee principal Joseph Pethel wrote a letter back in response that was obtained by the AJC.

“I want to start by apologizing for the need of your difficult conversation in place of the excitement of winning and advancing to the state championship game,” Pethel wrote. “We take these issues seriously and will continue to investigate and make sure that appropriate actions are taken for all involved.”

Paideia played Atlanta International School for the Georgia Class 1A boys soccer championship in Macon, Georgia, on Tuesday. The team won the championship in triple overtime for its fourth state title over the last decade.

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