Philly Colleges Join South Carolina Boycott
PHILADELPHIA — Haverford College’s women’s tennis teams have spent spring break on the courts at Hilton Head, S.C. since 1988. But last month, team officials decided to cease the 12-year tradition so the school could joined the national boycott over the Confederate flag that flies over the state’s Capitol Building.
“This year I didn’t think it was right to go there,” says Ann Koger, the Haverford women’s tennis coach. “As a coach, I have to make decisions that are best for my team players, parents and team followers. I don’t want to be found negligent and I don’t want to be taking people into something negative,” she says.
Haverford was first among seven Philadelphia-area colleges that announced their decision late last month to cancel spring training trips to the resort community. Bryn Mawr’s tennis and lacrosse teams, which also were bound for Hilton Head, then decided to join the boycott.
Since then, teams from Temple and Philadelphia universities and Swathmore, Dickinson and Franklin & Marshall colleges have canceled trips.
Dennis Malick, owner of Tennisaction, the Hilton Head company that arranges the tennis trips, says no other teams among 64 other schools planning to go to the resort in March had canceled. About 29 matches have been called off because of the schools’ withdrawal.
The boycott adds a few more to the list of higher education institutions and associations that have decided to stay away from the belle weather state until the to-do about the flag is resolved. In January, officials from two Black coaches organizations asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association to remove the 2002 Division I Men’s South Regional Basketball Tournament from Greenville, S.C. NCAA officials say they will take a wait and see approach to the concern (see Black Issues, Feb. 3).
In the meantime, South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges announced earlier this month, a plan that would remove the battle flag from the Statehouse dome and from the House and Senate chambers. It would put the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia — a square version of the Confederate Naval Jack that flies above the dome — on a pole beside a statute of a horse-riding Confederate general.
Hodges says the plan has bipartisan support, but James Gallman, president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP says the civil rights group could not support the bill. Gallman previously said the NAACP wants the flag placed in the Confederate Relic Room and Museum. But some Black lawmakers do support the bill that will be introduced in the state Senate.
While the debate rages on, about 100 organizations from church groups to professional associations have moved meetings out of the state.
The Haverford decision — the catalyst for the pull out by Philadelphia schools — came days after a rally in South Carolina’s capital. Nearly 50,000 anti-flag supporters — Black and White — marched and rallied in the state capital on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
That’s when Haverford’s president, Dr. Thomas Tritton, made the decision to support canceling the trip. Training in South Carolina “would be a violation of Haverford’s long tradition of respect for all individuals,” Greg Kannerstein, the school’s athletic director, said in a letter to Tennisaction. The school did not want to “contribute to the tourist economy of a state which shows disrespect to a large segment of its citizens through the flag it flies over its Capitol,” he added.
The decision came as a relief to Koger, who is African American.
“I don’t want to have to go there looking over my shoulder,” she says. “Hilton Head has been good to us for the most part. But my coaching staff is African American, most of my players are northerners and we’ve had a few under-the-breath not-so-nice words. I didn’t want to subject my people to anything given the climate.”
Koger adds that she does not believe the team would be in any danger of violence if they did attend.
At the same time, Dave O’Brien, Temple’s athletic director, says his men’s tennis team would not be going.
“We need to be supportive both in word and deed,” O’Brien says.
John Chaney, Temple’s men’s basketball coach, has been outspoken in talking about the need for the flag to come down.
Bryn Mawr’s athletic director Amy Campbell says her department respects the decision of the teams. “After a pretty thorough discussion with both coaches and the team members,” the tennis and lacrosse teams decided to cancel their trips. “It’s a teaching moment for all of us,” she says.
“It was a joint decision,” says Sarah Smedley, a college spokeswoman. “The most important thing is that the students found the position of the NAACP to be consistent with the college’s commitment to fostering mutual respect within diverse communities. That’s important because we have the oldest self-governing student government association in the country.”
Meanwhile, businesses on Hilton Head will slightly feel the pinch, but Malick says it’s too early to calculate the loss.
“It’s not affecting us much other than I’m reshuffling schedules for teams that lost matches, and changing court sites. There’s no question we’re going to lose but not anything that great,” he says, adding that he would like to get “that damn flag down.”
Malick does admit that he would have preferred if the Pennsylvania teams had joined the tennis conference.
“What we were hoping was that schools would abide by their commitments this year and if something is not done, they would decide not to come next year,” he says.
But Haverford’s Koger says school officials didn’t really see another option.
“We were looking out for our personal interest and making an institutional statement. We don’t have a policy,” she says. “We’re trying to respect and support South Carolinians we think have a legitimate concern about the appearance of the flag flying over the Statehouse.
“It’s associated with slavery. It’s perceived as a bad time in this country, and also a time our nation was divided,” Koger adds.
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