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Ashland's Goings: Bananas reaction based on perception, not facts

Jason Goings, Ashland High School assistant principal and athletic director, meets with members of the Black Culture Club and student council at Senior High Thursday morning.

      The assistant principal of Ashland High School said again Thursday that bananas left in the visitors’ locker room on Oct. 5 were not meant to be an insult to the Mansfield Senior High School football team.

      Jason Goings, a former Mansfield Middle School principal who also serves as Ashland’s athletic director, met with members of Senior High’s Black Culture Club and student council. He said the “perception” of what occurred on Oct. 5 “was not the reality.”

      Ashland student council members had been expected to participate in the meeting arranged by the Black Culture Club at Senior High, but Goings said those plans were scrapped after Ashland administrators got an advance look at a Power Point presentation the Black Culture Club had prepared.

      “I saw the Power Point last night. Our administrators thought the first part of the Power Point was accusatory. We hadn’t prepared our students for it,” Goings said. “We were under the impression this forum was to discuss differences.”

      During the course of the hour-long discussion Goings repeated his earlier explanation that Ashland’s cross country team left extra fruit in the visitors’ locker room after their “Banana Friday” in preparation for their races the next day. Visiting teams were welcome to eat them, he said, just as they had on many other game nights with other visiting schools.

      The Power Point was prepared by Ben Miller, a member of the Black Culture Club, student council and the football team. It included video of the Ashland student section on Oct. 5. Some students were dressed in banana costumes while others were holding bananas. They could be heard chanting “Go, bananas. Go, go, bananas.”

      The Power Point also included the slur that African Americans have endured by being associated with monkeys or apes.

      “I have been on the football team for three years and have never seen anything like that,” he said, referring to the bananas in the locker room. “It’s a rivalry game. We are not perceived to be on the same level as Ashland. We want to overcome that.”

      Goings said he understood Miller’s feelings, which reflected those of other students in the room, but he repeated his assertion that there was no slur directed at Mansfield.

      “Your perception is that it was a banana theme. It was not,” he said. “There were only three or so students in banana costumes out of 100 or so on costume night.”

      He said students were dressed as a dinosaur, a pineapple, Minions, a hot dog and other characters. The banana chant, he said, is a cheer that has been recited “for generations.”

      “We wanted Ashland students to understand our feelings, our point of view,” Miller said. “I thought a discussion among students would resolve this today. You’re still not acknowledging our feelings.”

      Goings – who paused several times to measure his words -- stood his ground.

      “I absolutely do understand your feelings,” he said, “but I’m not going to apologize for a malicious act that didn’t occur. Our students absolutely did nothing wrong.”

      Goings referred again to what he described as the accusatory tone of the Power Point.

      “What struck me about the Power Point was that you seem to be saying: ‘Here’s what you did wrong. Here’s why it was wrong. We’re willing to forgive you. Let’s talk about it,’” he said.

      “Bananas were not purposely put in the locker room. No one said, ‘Hey, Mansfield is coming over. Let’s put some bananas in the locker room.’ That’s not what happened at all – at all. Our students had no idea about bananas in the locker room. They had no idea. None.”

      Goings also took exception to a statement in the Power Point which said Senior High is the only predominately African American school in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.

      “Senior High is not predominantly African American. It never has been,” he said. “When I was here (as middle school principal) I got reports every year. Today, 49 percent of the Senior High student body is minority. That’s the highest it’s ever been. The perception that Senior High is predominantly African American is absolutely false.”

      Another student noted that Senior High’s football and basketball teams are mostly African American. Goings agreed.

      “As an athletic director, I would ask why. Why are most athletic teams predominantly African American? Why don’t they reflect the percentage of the student body?”

       Returning to the events of Oct. 5, Goings said an Ashland administrator opened the locker room and explained to the Mansfield coaches why the bananas had been left there.

      “But he was not believed,” Goings said. “As soon we realized that the gesture wasn’t taken as it was meant to be, we removed the bananas.”

      Goings said he apologized to the Tyger coaching staff “to a man.” 

      “They said they understood,” Goings said. “I still have coach Bradley on my phone saying nothing was wrong. Also, the Madison athletic director is on record saying bananas were in the locker room when they came to play here.”

      After an Ashland coach put the bananas outside, Goings said, someone on the Tyger staff brought them back inside and onto the field after the game.

      Social media reaction was based on perceptions, not facts, he said.

      Goings said adults involved on Oct. 5 and afterward could have done a better job of resolving the situation.

      “I agree with you that students need to discuss social and cultural differences. That needs to happen, but not yet,” he said. “More work needs to be done before we bring students into it. This would have been a blindsiding for our students today.”

      The video on Miller’s Power Point emphasized that people all too often are labeled because of their race, religion or ethnic origin.

      “Labels aren’t always what’s inside a person,” Miller said. “We should all be one. Our differences are minor. It shouldn’t be a black or white world. It should be one world.”

      Adviser Stephanie Chandler said later that several students in the Black Culture Club helped to prepare the Power Point. Miller and Mariah Crimm were the presenters, she said. 

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