Alleged racial slurs from Bedford players cause Pioneer varsity football team to forfeit game in protest

Pioneer’s football program forfeited its varsity game against Bedford Friday night to protest alleged racial slurs directed at Pioneer players during the junior varsity game between the two schools the previous night. 

Following the allegations against Bedford players, Pioneer varsity football coach Jimmy Williams, in a statement released on the football program’s Instagram page, said that the varsity team decided not to play their game in protest of the alleged events. 

“In light of how our JV players were treated last night, we won’t allow our players to be subjected to physical, mental or emotional harm,” said Williams. “We must demand better for our kids.” 

AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift issued a statement yesterday about the incident. “During Thursday night’s junior varsity football game at Bedford High School, there were alleged racial taunts made by Bedford players toward Pioneer players. As soon as the Pioneer coach became aware of this issue, steps were taken during the Thursday game by our coach to address this matter with the involvement of game officials,” Swift said. “Today, the Pioneer administrative team has engaged with the Bedford team in a follow-up investigation, to confirm the facts of what occurred, and to determine appropriate follow-up steps to address this matter.  At this current time, these investigative and follow-up steps remain in process.”

Swift further said that she had notified the director of high school football for the Michigan High School Athletics Association, and the assignor of football officials for the SEC has been contacted to discuss this matter specifically, as has the lead administrator for football for the SEC.

“We will continue our work to clarify facts in this situation and to determine appropriate steps moving forward to support our student athletes and all our students in the Ann Arbor Public Schools,” Swift said.

Joe Bonenberger, a player on Pioneer’s junior varsity team, approved of the varsity team’s decision to withdraw from the game. 

“I think that the way Coach Williams has addressed the situation was the best he could do,” Bonenberger said.

Senior Brian Robinson, a player on Pioneer’s varsity team, says that this wasn’t the first time racial incidents have occurred between Pioneer and the Bedford team.

“[Some Bedford players] have always been racist during football games,” he claims. “It has been like that since my freshman year, so it didn’t come as a surprise during the game that they were going to be like that.”

Robinson’s teammate James Dombrowski echoed this statement. 

“[We] are sending them a message that we will no longer be complacent with their behavior like we have for the past years,” Dombrowski said. 

Superintendent Swift noted in her statement that the district administration fully supported Pioneer’s decision to forfeit Friday’s varsity game versus Bedford.

“In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we take seriously all situations involving harm to our students, and we are committed to address all situations of racism that may arise, without fear. While we understand the consequences of not playing this game as they relate to enjoyment of a September evening of football and wins and losses, we fully and unequivocally support the position of our coach to demand a full accounting of the incident from Thursday night and to take action to avoid placing our AAPS athletes in a position to potentially be treated in the same manner,” she said. “We stand fully in support of Principal Lowder, the coach, and the Pioneer administrative team in the deliberate steps they have taken to fully investigate this matter, and to stand strong against acts of racism and harm to our students.”

According to Michigan High School Athletics Association rules, the varsity game against Bedford is considered a forfeit and counts as a loss for Pioneer. 

Carl Shultz, superintendent of Bedford schools, responded to Pioneer’s forfeiture in a statement posted on the district’s website yesterday. 

The forfeiture is unfortunate for those scheduled to play this evening, and I would hope that in the future, a more aligned investigation can take place where facts are shared to ensure that a professional and complete investigation can ensue,” the statement read. “The one thing that is clear is that there is no place in high school athletics, or any other setting, for the type of behavior being alleged.”

Shultz said that no players from either team were ejected from the junior varsity game, responding to rumors that were making their way through social media, and that the JV game officials reported that they had not heard any racist taunts from Bedford players, a claim that was also circulating on social media. Rumors have also emerged on social media that a Confederate flag was brought to the game by Bedford, but that has not been confirmed by The Optimist

“It is our hope that we can work with Ann Arbor Pioneer administration to complete a comprehensive investigation using factual information to develop a full understanding of any alleged inappropriate behaviors,” he said.

Pioneer athletes are hopeful that this situation will result in change regarding the treatment toward athletes of color at Pioneer. 

“I’ve been told this has gone on for years and nothing has changed, so I hope this starts something,” said Bonenberger.