Beloit Memorial captain Mandi Franks — the only white player on the team — said she had heard through social media that the Parker students had planned the “gangster” theme days before the game, and sent word “that that will not go over well.”
A Janesville Parker player said she’d try to get the theme changed, but apparently wasn’t entirely successful.
“I saw wife beaters, backwards flat brim caps, Jordan hats, stuff like that,” Franks said in an interview late Wednesday evening. “And then it gets worse and worse and you can tell what the theme is as it goes on. Girls and boys were wearing jeans that were sagging and they had boxers or spandex underneath that were showing a lot. They had bandanas hanging from their belt loops or up on their hair, around their neck. A couple of people had durags on. And there was a lot of red. I saw a lot of the color red. Parker is green and gold, so you can definitely tell exactly what (red) means.”
Franks said she tried to speak to Parker Athletic Director Clayton Kreger but was told he was out of town.
Franks said choosing the “gangster” theme for a game against Beloit Memorial was a problem for two reasons: first, it makes light of gang violence, a significant issue in Beloit; and second, it mocks Black culture.
“Regardless if there was malicious intent or not, everybody knows about Beloit and our crime rate and gang violence,” Franks said. “We have classmates that one day are there in our class sitting next to us in English. And then the day after that seat is empty because they were shot and then are in the hospital, they’re in prison or they’re now dead. It’s a very serious issue in our school. That is … something that we, as a community, are trying to fight through every single day. And so to see that that is a joke … that’s not ever something that you joke about. And I just, I can’t believe that it was a theme for a student section.”
The “gangster” theme and stereotypical Black gangster attire made Beloit players uncomfortable, Franks said, partly because 10 of the 12 players on the team are Black — as is 22 percent of the Beloit Memorial student body, according to DPI data. Only 33 percent of Beloit Memorial students are white; by contrast, Janesville Parker’s student body is more than 71 percent white and just five percent Black.
Franks said the attire was “literally directly relating black culture to gang violence, which is a problem in itself. They show up wearing typical nineties African-American fashion and come in wearing durags, which is a protective thing for African-American hair, and they have the giant gold chains, like stuff like that, things that are associated with Black culture because Black people are the ones that have popularized these outfits, these articles of clothing. And now when their theme is gangster, they come in looking like that.”
Franks used the bus ride home to write an email to Parker administrators, including athletic director Kreger.
“I would hate for a student section to be making a joke and a ‘theme’ out of kids lives changing every day because of gangs,” she wrote. “The deaths we mourn every day and our peers we watch go to prison every day are not jokes to us, and they should not be jokes to your students … I don’t understand how this would ever be seen as okay, so maybe Parker as a school needs to have some inclusion and diversity education to prevent this, and similar situations, in the future.”
Franks said she felt compelled to do something about the situation, which made her teammates “very upset.”
“I don’t understand how I can see something like that and see how it affects my team and not do anything about it,” she said.
Kreger did not respond to email messages Wednesday evening, nor did Parker principal Christopher Laue or Janesville schools superintendent Steve Pophal, nor did Beloit school officials.
One Beloit parent said she lays blame with the adults.
“I don’t always fault the kids because they’re children and they don’t always make the best decisions at that age, but where the hell is the administration?” said Kathy Crawford, who was at the game to watch her daughter play on Beloit Memorial’s junior varsity team. “That’s absolutely unacceptable. Whether it was intended to be hurtful or not, it was. It made our kids really uncomfortable.”
Crawford posted Franks’ email to Facebook Tuesday night. Franks agrees that Parker staff likely knew the student section theme was going to be “gangster” but did nothing to prevent it.
“I 100 percent believe there’s no way that no teachers knew. Parents had to have known. You see your kids leaving the house, you know exactly what they’re doing. How many girls had to ask their dads to borrow their hats? They knew exactly what they were doing,” she said.
Crawford said the experience might be an opportunity for education at Parker.
“It’s just being more conscious of other people instead of just something funny,”. “And especially because the young people from Beloit have experienced a lot of loss from this kind of (gang-related) activity. And like, they lose their friends, so it affects these kids differently. And for you to dress up like what you think is cool, but these kids live it every day, that’s insensitive. That’s kind of the bottom line. (Janesville Parker) should really use this as a teaching moment.”
In Facebook comments, one Janesville student apologized “for the way it came across” while others defended the theme, saying it’s been used for games against other schools and wasn’t intended to target Beloit, and that some of the students participating were mixed race.
“Are you a mixed or Black person living in Parker and dealing with Parker’s issues, or are you a mixed or black person living in Beloit, dealing with Beloit’s issues?” Franks asked. “Because I have a very, very hard time believing that you can live through what we live through every day and find it funny that people dressed up as gangsters.”
Beloit Memorial won the game, 51-37.