School officials reacted swiftly after a handful of student spectators uttered anti-Semitic chants during a basketball game last week between Lower Merion and Upper Darby high schools.
During the closing moments of a Dec. 15 game held at Upper Darby — a contest Lower Merion won handily — several parents said that they heard spectators chant, "Warm up the Ovens" and "We'll write letters to you at Auschwitz."
"I don't think it is any secret that the Lower Merion School District has a higher percentage of Jewish students than almost any school district, and other students know this," said Nancy Baron-Baer, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, which was notified within an hour of the incident, as was the Upper Darby police.
For their part, Lower Merion students were also heard voicing some disparaging chants, making reference to SAT scores and implying a lack of academic achievement at Upper Darby.
Immediately after the game, some Upper Darby students apparently set up a Facebook page called "I hate Lower Merion kids" that also contained several references to the Holocaust, according to Baron-Baer. She said that the page was taken down within several hours.
Several Upper Darby students responsible for both the Web site and chants were disciplined, according to Baron-Baer and Douglas Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion School District. Baron-Baer said that the number of students and the exact nature of the punishment weren't being revealed due to privacy issues.
Upper Darby Superintendent Lois F. DeVlieger could not be reached for comment. Upper Darby police have investigated the incident, but have not pressed charges, according to Baron-Baer.
Michael Chitwood, superintendent of the Upper Darby police, is expected to speak to the student body about the dangers of hate speech, she said.
The schools' principals have spoken several times, and representatives from the student councils have been in touch and have raised the possibility of a meeting. Officials from the Central League, an athletic division that includes both teams, are also expected to review the incident.
The two teams next meet in January at Lower Merion.
Passion Taken Too Far?
Kyle Peters, a Lower Merion senior in charge of the cheering section, said that both sides were at fault. "Both schools are very passionate about their sports, and sometimes, it can be taken too far," he said.
Last October, a similar exchange took place on Facebook in advance of a soccer match between Lower Merion and Strath Haven High School.
Some Lower Merion students posted comments calling their rivals "white trash," and told the students to "talk to us when you're in our tax bracket." For their part, Strath Haven students allegedly posted messages referring to Lower Merion soccer players as "kikes," and threatened to "change the pipes in the showers so water doesn't flow through them, but gas does."
Following that incident, ADL organized several educational programs at Strath Haven.
Holly Cohen, the mother of a Lower Merion player, said that she and her husband "freaked out" when they heard the anti-Semitic comments. She said she called both schools the next day to make sure some action was taken: "I didn't want those kids to go home and get away with it."
Another Lower Merion parent, Scott Shapiro, whose family has heard other types of back-and-forth epithets at sporting events, said that it's fairly common, and he's not surprised that the line keeps getting crossed.
While he noted that Lower Merion kids aren't blameless, "there's nothing funny about 'turning on the ovens.' You just can't say certain things."