Hartford Girls’ Football Ends Sexual Harassment Game From Fair Haven Pits

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Jeff Acker, Hartford High School girls’ football coach, in an undated photo. File photo by Tris Wykes / Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected]

Editor’s Note: This Seth Tow story first appeared in the Valley News on October 9.

The Hartford High women’s football team left the field with six minutes left on Thursday night due to sexual harassment in the stands, according to head coach Jeff Acker.

Acker withdrew his team from the game, at Fair Haven Union High, after at least one of the Hurricanes was subjected to taunts from the Fair Haven student section that went “far beyond even normal unacceptable unsportsmanlike behavior in high school, ”according to Acker.

Acker said it was unlike anything he had encountered in his 16 seasons as the Hurricanes coach.

“We understand that on occasion, someone might make a comment from the student section to a player on the opposing team. And that’s really unacceptable, and the admins are usually there to nip this thing in the bud, ”Acker said. “And it was way beyond that. It was about a high school athlete who was the target of harassment because of her gender. Plain and simple.

In a Facebook post in the Upper Valley (VT / NH) group, Sara Morris Blood – whose daughter, Katie, is a senior defenseman and team captain for Hartford – said comments from the Fair Haven student section were sexual harassment.

“Yes, outright sexual harassment – barking, ‘hey, pull your shirt up so we can see your ass! “, Etc. Sang wrote.

Acker said the comments were aimed at at least one player and he didn’t realize it was happening in the second half.

He said he intended to follow up with the players who were on that side of the pitch in the first half to see if they too were subjected to harassing taunts.

The Hurricanes bench was across the field from the host team’s student section, so Acker couldn’t hear the actual commentary, but said he could tell something was wrong. based on the body language of its players, as well as the timing of the crowd noise.

“We would get a touch, right in the middle of the field. And all of a sudden, their student section was making noise. Nobody cheers when the other team gets a shot in midfield, like it’s not normal, ”Acker said. “Well, what was going on was, in those cases, for example, my player was going over, she had to do the throw, and now she’s right in front of the students section. And then that’s when the comments were coming out.

Acker estimated that 30 to 50 people were in the student section of the Slaters on Thursday.

He said he decided to take the Hurricanes off the pitch when the player who suffered the most abuse in the second half walked off the pitch, uninvited, during a break after a goal put Fair Haven at 6-0.

There was no replacement ready to come in. It was not a coaching gesture. The player left the field on her own. She had had enough, Acker said.

Acker sent another player into the game, but after a while he reconsidered.

“It occurred to me that what I had done was just put another girl over there to be the target. And that’s when I said I couldn’t (do this). I have to protect everyone. I have to protect this girl. I must protect us. We’re not here anymore, ”Acker said.

At that point, Acker stepped out onto the field, sent his team to pack their things and go straight to the bus. He spoke with officials in midfield to explain the situation, then Hartford returned to White River Junction.

Hurricanes athletic director Jeff Moreno and Slaters athletic director Kim Alexander were working together on Friday to investigate the incident, according to Alexander.

Alexander said Fair Haven officials were aware of the allegations. She said she was at the game but would not comment.

“We take this very seriously,” Alexander said. “We are investigating all allegations. And we’re going to work with Hartford and resolve any issues that may or may not exist. “

The Hartford boys’ soccer traveled to face Fair Haven on Friday night.

Meanwhile, the women’s team reconvened for practice on Friday. Assistant coach Joe Cerniglia said the team have spoken about what happened and the players have expressed their thoughts and feelings.

He said everyone will have their own timeline to fully deal with the situation, but that will make the squad a closer group in the future.

“Everyone is fine, as best we can give you the circumstances,” Cerniglia said. “It’s definitely going to take time for different players and student-athletes to process their emotions. But overall my take is that everyone is in a good position, looking to move forward and ready to get ready to play Otter Valley. “

The Hartford Girls’ next game against the Otters is Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Maxfield Sports Complex.

The Fair Haven incident occurred the same week, the Burlington School District confirmed racist comments were directed at the high school girls’ volleyball team on Wednesday. WCAX-TV reported that the comments would come from the South Burlington stands and were aimed at the University of Burlington women’s volleyball team.

The comments were reported to an official, and the Burlington coach then removed his team from the field.

Late last month, soccer players and spectators at Enosburg Falls High targeted Winooski High players with racist taunts during a game, the Winooski superintendent claimed.

Hundreds of people gathered in Winooski last week to show their support for the football team, according to VTDigger.

In a match against the visit to Oxbow High, many in the crowd of all ages wore black shirts with “Winooski Strong” written on the front, VTDigger reported. Some brought hand-made signs with messages such as “We Believe Black Lives Matter” and “We (heart) Winooski Soccer”.

Sexual harassment has also been a topic of conversation this week in women’s professional football.

A high profile coach and senior official of the National Women’s Football League resigned this week after allegations of sexual harassment made by two former players.

The players halted the action on the pitch in the sixth minute of Wednesday night’s NWSL games and tied their arms in a circle to show solidarity with the women who have raised allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct .

“Tonight we are back on the pitch because we will not let our joy be taken away from us,” the NWSL Players Association said in a statement on Wednesday evening. “But it’s not business as usual.”

The league called last weekend’s games as they accepted the players’ claims.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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