Pre-Game Incident Becomes Teachable Moment

Pre-Game Incident Becomes Teachable Moment

Officials at the Weber School and Providence Christian Academy moved swiftly to diffuse potential problem.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The handling of an incident that could have marred relations between the Weber School and Providence Christian Academy is being praised by officials at both schools.

The Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn, Ga..

As Weber’s junior varsity boys basketball team arrived at Providence Christian, in Lilburn, for its Nov. 13 game, one boy in a group of students from the host school, standing in a parking lot, raised an arm in a Nazi salute and also may have made a derogatory comment.

Officials at both schools suggested that the incident have have been more a case of immaturity and poor judgment than intended anti-Semitism, an attempt at humor without understanding Jewish sensitivity to gestures and language associated with the Holocaust.

“Our student-athletes reported the incident to the Weber School coaching staff and our staff addressed the incident before game time with our players, Weber athletic director Scott Seagraves wrote in a letter sent Nov. 16 to “Weber basketball families.”

The day after the game, players who witnessed the incident spoke with Seagraves and Rabbi Ed Harwitz, Weber’s head of school.

Rabbi Ed Harwitz, Weber’s head of school

Word of the incident spread through the Weber community, leading to versions that people “heard” but that may not have happened. One takeaway, Harwitz told the Atlanta Jewish Times, is the importance of diffusing rumors that could lead to unnecessary reactions.

“Our students responded precisely the way we would want them to,” Harwitz said “They shared it with adults (their coaches). They didn’t engage in any negative way. They reacted with civility and professionally in this regard.”

After meeting with the Weber team members, Harwitz and Seagraves then contacted their counterparts at Providence Christian.

Providence Christian is a K-12 private school with 680 students. Head of School Sean Chapman said that it is independent, not associated with any church or denomination.

Weber is a trans-denominational Jewish high school with a student body of 260.

The schools compete in sports in Region 5-A of the Georgia High School Association.

Providence Christian’s athletic director, Brad Williams, was aware of the incident.

“Upon speaking with their Athletic Director, I was informed by him the school and their administration were aware of the reported incident and were already taking measures to identify and hold accountable the offending student,” Seagraves wrote in his email. “I was personally assured the incident was being handled in an appropriate manner and the Providence Christian athletic staff expressed their deep regret and heart felt apologies. After my conversations with their administration, I feel confident this was an unfortunate, isolated incident and not a reflection of the professionals and students at The Providence Christian Academy.

“Additionally, I would like to commend our coaches and student-athletes for the manner in which they conducted themselves regarding this incident. Our coaching staff showed the professionalism I expect from them while counseling our student-athletes, and our student-athletes acted with great composure, resolve, and sportsmanship,” the Weber athletic director told the parents.

Contacted by the Atlanta Jewish Times, Chapman said that, to his understanding, the incident occurred when the Weber athletes asked a group of Providence students for directions to the gymnasium.

Sean Chapman, The Providence Christian Academy’s head of school.

“As the Weber students were walking away, one of our students . . . made a horrible slur,” Chapman said.

No Providence Christian staff was in the parking area when this happened, he said.

Chapman said he called Rabbi Harwitz on Nov. 14, the day after the game, to apologize and that a letter of apology would be forthcoming.

“We talked for a few minutes. He was gracious, even empathetic, to be honest,” Chapman said of Harwitz.

In his letter, dated Nov. 15, Chapman wrote, “Please accept my sincere apology for the offensive gesture and words directed toward a group of your students while at Providence . . . This behavior was inexcusable and wrong, and I am deeply sorry that your students, school, and school community were subject to it.

“We are currently investigating the matter and want to assure you that we will be addressing the situation with the involved students and their parents.

“Providence is known for students who take their faith seriously, serve others and lead by example. The actions displayed . . . do not reflect who we are or the mission of our school.

“I appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention. And once again, I want to express how sorry we are that this happened,” Chapman wrote to Harwitz.

Harwitz was no less complimentary in his remarks about Chapman.

“Number one, Providence Christian not only took it with seriousness, they expressed a deep concern and sadness, is the best way to put it,” Harwitz told the AJT. “It was expressed to me and to us that what this one student did was completely contrary to their mission, their values and their code of conduct.”

“It’s a fine school, with precisely the kind of values we would hope,” Harwitz said, describing the response in Chapman’s call and letter as “touching and heart felt and deeply committed.

“For lack of a better term, they walked the walk,” Weber’s head of school said.

Insofar as Weber is concerned, the incident is closed, Harwitz said.

Chapman said that, as of Nov. 16, the identity of the student involved, possibly from Providence Christian’s middle school, had not yet been confirmed.

“It’s unacceptable behavior and we will have significant conversations with the student and their parents,” Chapman said.

The Holocaust is included in the curriculum of history classes taught at the middle and high school levels. Chapman said that Bible studies, including the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, is part of the daily curriculum.

“Our kids probably don’t come into contact with Jewish kids on a regular basis. We teach our students to value and respect everyone,” Chapman acknowledged, adding, “It’s wrong and whoever it is that did this knows this is not something the school will tolerate.”

The incident will be addressed with the student body following the Thanksgiving break, Chapman said.

Chapman has been at Providence Christian for 24 years. This is his third year as head of school. “To my knowledge something like this has not happened before,” he said.

If anything, Harwitz and Chapman said, how students, coaches, and administrators handle such an incident can avoid leaving a residue of ill will between the schools and potentially provide a “teachable moment” in which students can learn valuable life lessons.

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