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Today, times are tough. Faced with economic difficulties, global intolerance and public safety concerns, we Americans certainly are experiencing a variety of challenges. Yet, what is disconcerting to me is when I view one of these challenges at what is supposed to be a friendly, competitive interscholastic athletic event in my hometown.

I am a resident and parent in an affluent suburban school district, as well as an English teacher in a less affluent school district. Proud of both aforementioned titles, I work diligently to be an excellent mom, teacher, community member and overall role model. Therefore, I need to relate an unnecessary problem I continue to witness.

Comparing the districts of my residence and employment is not an apples-to-apples exercise. My resident district’s poverty rate is significantly lower than my employer’s; my employer also is a highly diverse school district in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic status. None of this really matters to me, except when I see unsportsmanlike behavior at local boys varsity soccer games.

I have been attending my employer’s games for years, not only because I played and love soccer, but as part of my commitment to support my students inside and outside of the classroom. In fact, in my soccer-playing students, I continually see growth in maturity, integrity, leadership and the ability to win, and perhaps even more importantly, to lose with dignity and grace. Unfortunately, I also have witnessed parents of my residential area be rude, mean-spirited and downright ignorant.

Recently, the school at which I teach played a team from my residential school district. As a spectator on the sidelines, I overheard numerous derogatory comments directed at my students and school. Racial slurs were said about my students both on and off the field, and rude, snide remarks were made about my students who choose to celebrate their individuality in terms of their appearance. In addition, when players from my employer’s varsity and junior varsity teams were injured at the same time and our athletic trainer treated the varsity player first, the affluent parents commented on the lower socioeconomic status of my school, claiming we could only afford one trainer per two games.

Ultimately, after the game was over and the visiting school earned a deserved victory, I overheard the parents from the winning side snickering about how great it was to defeat the poor, dirty team on its home field. Why, I ask?

The students from both teams on the field played good soccer. Was there some strong physical contact made? Absolutely. That is what soccer is – an aggressive, contact sport. Was there some teenage boy trading of insults? Most likely, but nothing was evident to the spectators. Instead, what was evident on the field was good sportsmanship, especially when an opposing teammate assisted one of my students who experienced a debilitating leg cramp. In short, both teams played a strong, hard game of soccer with respect. I can’t say the same for the parents.

I was embarrassed to be a parent of my residential school district that day. Having economic means, a big house, an advanced degree or an expensive car does not equate to having respect, tolerance and understanding. I hope the parents I overheard learn this lesson as solidly as my less fortunate students have. My students and their families may not be as wealthy as other students and families, but they truly are rich in spirit.