Misunderstanding may be at the root of football controversy in Cheshire 

CHESHIRE — On Friday night, the colors red, white, and blue could be seen throughout Cheshire High School’s David B. Maclary Athletic Complex.

Since the Cheshire student section, referred to as Ram Land, chose a USA-theme for the varsity football game against Staples High School from Westport, teenagers dressed in the traditional colors, cheered, and waved flags in support of their team.

For the Rams, the game ended in celebration, with the students storming the field to congratulate the football team on a 42-14 victory. However, the atmosphere was dampened when accusations of anti-Semitism and racism were levied against Cheshire High School fans.

Over the weekend, the story continued to intensify via social media.

However, in a joint press release Sunday night, Cheshire and Westport Public Schools announced that nothing had been found to support the accusations. On Monday afternoon, Cheshire Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Solan updated The Herald on that investigation, insisting that, while the school system will continue to monitor the situation, no further evidence had been presented.

“Even though we are not through with the investigation, it looks like there was no bad intention here,” said Solan. “I’m glad that people have no acceptance for that kind of hate, but it doesn’t look like that is what happened in this situation.”

The controversy centered on Cheshire fans who brought an Israeli flag to the game. The students, who are of Jewish descent, had wanted to show support for their personal heritage as part of the red, white, and blue theme. However, when Staples players and cheerleaders saw the flags, they brought it to the attention of police officers.

Cheshire High School administrators were alerted to the complaint and spoke with the students.

“The kids brought their Israeli flag because it is blue and white. Once we realized that (the flag) was upsetting the other team, we asked them to put it away,” said CHS Athletic Director Steve Trifone. “It was upsetting for the kids, but they did what we asked. It was nothing against them, but just a misunderstanding of their intent from the visiting team.”

Solan explained members of the Staples team may have been sensitive to the sight of the flags after having been a part of an incident back in 2018, when anti-Semitic chants were directed at their team. At Friday’s game, it reportedly was a Staples cheerleader who expressed concern over the flag, but over the weekend, a member of the cheerleading squad contacted Cheshire to clear the air.

“We received an email from a Staples High School cheerleader who said that they didn’t realize that the (Cheshire) students were Jewish and felt that this was a misunderstanding. I give the girl a lot of credit for reaching out to us,” said Solan. “I feel terrible that the girls had heard anti-Semitic chants in the past. I’m sure that our (CHS) students were also upset to have to put their flag away.”

Accusations that a Confederate flag was seen in the crowd and that racist chants could be heard began to pop up via social media, however, after reviewing photos and conducting interviews with those present during the game, Solan said no evidence has been discovered to support the allegations.

“We are continuing to work with Westport and will review any new information that becomes available to us,” added Solan. “After the game, we spoke with students and families because we take these allegations seriously.”

Immediate response

According to Solan, he was first alerted to social media accusations by Cheshire Fire Department Chief Jack Casner. After informing Cheshire Town Manager Sean Kimball, the officials spent the rest of the night reviewing the matter, finishing at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and then picking the investigation back up later that day.

“If something was said to be anti-Semitic, we knew that it needed to be dealt with immediately,” Solan said.

Since Friday night, Solan has been in contact with Westport Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice over Zoom and email.

“I reached out to him immediately when I heard the allegations and said that we would look into this,” said Solan. “Nobody reported to hearing anything all day on Saturday, so we decided to put out a release to provide an update on the situation.”

In the press release, Solan acknowledged the “deeply concerning” increase in anti-Semitism throughout the country, adding that the Cheshire Public Schools are staunchly opposed to any expression of hate. Along with thanking Westport Public Schools, Solan added that CPS is grateful to have continuous communication and collaboration with the Connecticut Anti Defamation League.

“We are diversified here at the school (CHS) and you see that come together at these type of events,” said Trifone. “It is good to know that nothing has come out of the allegations. I feel that our fans do a great job of supporting our teams and we have student leaders who make sure that people are doing the right things.”

Trifone said student crowds have increased in size this year. Over the past two years, CHS has at times had to turn spectators away from contests or have them attend in limited numbers due to the pandemic.

“I think the excitement of having fans has added to the atmosphere at the games. It is part of the culture and climate at the high school,” said Trifone. “We want to keep our kids safe and we will continue to do that in the future.”

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