Mussoline responds to racial incidents involving Haddonfield athletes

Expresses faith that the district, community and athletes can improve in wake of recent events

Haddonfield Superintendent Larry Mussoline has once again found himself in the middle of a racially-tinged incident involving athletes from his district, but is eager to close the book and attend to more pressing matters.

On Oct. 10, an anonymous person sent members of the Haddonfield school board and several media outlets a video containing racially-charged language, made by football players at St. Joseph Regional High School in Hammonton. The video was revealed to have been made at St. Joseph head coach Paul Sacco’s house some time before the two teams squared off on Sept. 29, according to multiple reports.

Also according to reports, St. Joseph’s principal, Fr. Allain Caparas, reached out to the principal of Haddonfield Memorial High School, Tammy McHale, to offer an apology.

Mussoline then penned a response to the incident, which was sent to all parents in the district as well as posted on the school district’s website. In that response, he professed confidence and strength in the school system and the surrounding community, insisting that a single incident from the previous spring does not define either the school district, the community or its athletes as being racially insensitive.

The body of the response also contained links to several stories published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, including an op-ed by columnist Maria Panaritis from Oct. 6 that mentioned a 2007 incident involving Haddonfield students where nearly $20,000 in property damage was caused in a private residence.

Additionally, Mussoline maintained that whatever punitive measures St. Joseph administration elected to take in the wake of the video’s discovery, was the school’s own business and Haddonfield would not worry about it.

Mussoline, who was expected to take the reins as superintendent on July 1, instead began his tenure in June. He arrived shortly after an incident where multiple observers witnessed a member of Haddonfield’s boys lacrosse team utter a racial epithet toward a female athlete from Sterling High School. When members of the lacrosse team refused to identify the teammate in question, their season was cancelled.

In response to a question posed by The Sun regarding his comments on the district’s website and letter to parents, Mussoline released a statement:

“Since our Haddonfield schools are conscientiously involved in a multi-year program to have our students and teachers explore and understand diversity, we feel we are doing more than most school systems to teach, understand, explore, examine, and scrutinize diversity and equity issues in American society. We’re not perfect and we are fairly sure that we and other schools and communities will continue to deal with equity and diversity issues.

“The letter was to acknowledge that good work going on in our schools. It was to acknowledge and report to our community on another incident reported to us anonymously where our school was involved with a racial slur albeit this time on the periphery,” he said.

Here is what Mussoline posted on the district’s website:

“In the four months I have been superintendent of Haddonfield schools, I have come to know our school community as a nationally recognized blue ribbon school district located in a beautiful, blue ribbon community. I see the students as respectful, appreciative and polite. The Haddonfield residents I’ve met are generally philanthropic in nature, believing in the concept of aiding and supporting the common good. Frankly, I am getting tired of individuals painting Haddonfield students and citizens with the broad brush of racial insensitivity.

“What I understand is that — more than five months ago, last spring — one single individual in one of our 22 varsity extracurricular programs said something completely inappropriate and unacceptable to a visiting athlete at a track meet. We addressed that situation head on. We apologized to the young athlete who was the target of the slur and actions were taken to mitigate this situation from occurring again.

“Here’s the key. That single incident does not define the entire Haddonfield school district and the Haddonfield community as being racially insensitive. It doesn’t define any Haddonfield sports team or program as racially insensitive. It doesn’t define Haddonfield schools as racially insensitive. It doesn’t define the community as racially insensitive. Whether lacrosse, football, soccer or any other sport, you will find the athletes we have on those teams are among the very best any community has representing them. The athletes on our school sports teams have won numerous good sportsmanship awards throughout southern New Jersey over the years.

“Quite recently, teachers and students in our high school raised over $65,000 to support a former Sudanese child soldier, who is now a student at Emory College earning his master’s degree. The motivation for reaching out to Garang Buk Buk was through reading a literary piece centered on diversity. No one knew Garang Buk Buk prior to our students and teachers reaching out to him, working together to combat power and privilege as concerned and proactive global citizens. The good about Haddonfield and its schools FAR outweighs isolated incidents by single people in our community or in our society.

“On Oct. 10, we found ourselves again, although on the periphery this time, in the throes of another racial incident in America. An unidentifiable individual sent members of the Haddonfield school board and many media outlets a racially charged video made by football players at St. Joseph Regional High School in Hammonton. After discovering the existence of this video for the first time yesterday, we sent it to Saint Joe’s where we are confident the administrators and athletic director will handle the situation appropriately. That’s the end of the story for Haddonfield.

“The video was originally sent two weeks ago to an African-American student on Haddonfield‘s football team. He shared the video with teammates as a motivational tool for the upcoming game. Our football coach may have heard about a video that was circulating, but never looked at it because his athletes downplayed the video as ‘just trash talk.’ Our coach and team then went about their business, attending conditioning sessions and practices in preparation for the game against Saint Joe’s. Haddonfield won the game on Sept. 29.

“While we were saddened that this event occurred, we understand that sometimes students and adults make thoughtless choices. Maybe they don’t understand the gravity of words. Possibly they don’t understand the history of racism in America. All I know is that we in the Haddonfield schools are working very hard to ensure that our students understand the past, respect others, and that they demonstrate respect in their words and actions.

“My final thought: let’s let the people at St. Joseph’s High School handle this situation, and let’s move on in Haddonfield.”