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Volleyball Wilson

Boys’ Volleyball: Wilson Alleges Racist Taunts From St. Francis Players During Match

A number of Wilson High School coaches, administrators, and parents have asserted that a member of the Wilson boys’ volleyball team was the victim of racially-motivated heckling during a recent match against St. Francis High School.

Shortly after the Bruins’ 3-1 victory over the Golden Knights on Apr. 19, Wilson High principal Suzanne Caverly lodged a formal complaint with the Moore League, which was then passed along to the CIF-Southern Section and St. Francis administrators. Moore League Secretary Lisa Ulmer said that the league would refrain from comment as they await responses from both parties.

The complaint alleged that players on the St. Francis bench were making monkey sounds during the match, specifically when Wilson’s only Black player, sophomore Marek Turner, was behind the service line. The562 has reviewed video from the match, and the animal sounds are clearly audible in footage taken from both the stands and behind the baseline. Ceballos said that he notified the referees of the ongoing taunts during the match, but his concerns were dismissed.

“I’m not the person that steps out and automatically accuses people of racism. It’s such a sensitive topic and I want to make sure the evidence is there,” said Wilson head coach Chris Ceballos. “We don’t want to throw that around lightly. But at the same time, after going back and reviewing (the video) a few times trying to see if there was intent there, people may say one way or the other, but in my personal opinion, it looks bad on their end.”

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The animal sounds became a point of discussion among Wilson parents in the stands, and on the Wilson bench. Caverly said she even walked behind the visitors bench to listen to the taunts up close, then submitted Wilson’s complaint later that evening.

CIF Southern Section spokesperson Thom Simmons said that the incident would need to be addressed by the schools involved, and the CIF had no additional comment or updates to offer.

A request for comment from St. Francis athletic director Matthew Luderer was not returned, but St. Francis assistant coach Scott Metcalf left a lengthy comment on an Instagram post made by Ceballos discussing the incident. 

“Please accept my apology,” Metcalf wrote. “I am truly sorry that you, Marek, or anyone at Wilson felt any racism directed toward them.”

Metcalf then went on to explain the incident from the St. Francis perspective, saying that the calls from the bench were “bird noises” which had become part of the team’s routine this season.

“(The bench has) been making bird noises in dozens of matches without incident till our match (Wednesday) when someone interpreted them as monkey calls,” Metcalf wrote. “This is unfortunate because our bench did not intend any harm by the noises. I’ve listened closely to the entire match, and shared my own video with timestamps for each of the bird calls (6-7 times) with the Wilson Hudl account. Our school administration has reviewed the video as well and concluded that the noises were the same bird calls they have been doing all season. To avoid any future misinterpretation, we will no longer make any animal noises of any kind.”

Metcalf went on to say that Ceballos’ public post–which featured a photo of the Wilson team making a “shush” gesture and a caption explaining his view of the situation–had “broken” his team due to the allegations of racist behavior. (Metcalf’s full comment is included at the end of the story)

Ceballos said he noticed the questionable noises early in the match, but didn’t jump to any conclusions and didn’t speak up about the situation until the fourth set. He said he made a point of listening to the St. Francis bench when his players were serving, but he only heard the questionable sounds when Turner, the lone African-American player in Wilson’s lineup, went back to serve.

Turner, a talented sophomore who played on the USA Volleyball U19 National Team back in March, eventually responded to the taunts. After putting down a kill, he turned his attention to the St. Francis bench, making the same “shush” gesture in their direction. That earned Turner a yellow card, but did not stop the animal noises.

“It became more and more obvious, specifically in the fourth set. And I think that's when Marek might have made the connection even more so because he responded,” Ceballos explained. “And then after that response, it continued. Every time he went back to serve, it got louder. We went back to see if it was for everybody, but when I went through the film I didn’t hear it for everybody.”

Ceballos said he reached out to Turner personally after the match to let him know that he and the school were supporting him.

“I wanted to make sure that he feels the support from me, especially being the head coach trying to protect them from situations like that,” Ceballos said. “I just let him know that I always have his back. My kids are African-American, so that hurt even more in that situation. I’m very aware of that kind of stuff, so it was hurting me to know he might have been going through that. To see that his parents were affected by it was kind of hard to watch, because I can only imagine how I would feel if my kids had to undergo something like that.”

The players on both the Wilson and St. Francis sides of the net are well acquainted, with several playing either with or against one another in club volleyball. Ceballos said he’s aware of the relationship between the players, and noted that the animal sounds were limited to just players on the St. Francis bench, not from those on the court. He said he hopes this incident won’t negatively impact the relationship between his players and the St. Francis players who weren’t involved in making the animal noises.

“It sucks for the kids that are a part of it as well on their end,” Ceballos said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone in this situation, because it’s just a crappy situation overall. But people need to be aware of what they’re doing. Even if it’s unintentional, animal noises towards anyone of color, they should know better at this point in time.”

Both Wilson and St. Francis were placed in the CIF-SS Division 2 bracket, but both teams were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. Principal Caverly said she would leave it up to individual head coaches to determine whether they will continue to schedule Sr. Francis for regular season competition going forward.

Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.