Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Do you feel that HHS and our city are inclusive environments for all cultures/ethnicities?

  • Yes, I do (60%, 67 Votes)
  • We can improve (30%, 34 Votes)
  • No, I do not (10%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 112

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Black student-athletes share experiences, expectations in sports

Freshman+Kaylen+De+Los+Santos+cheering+in+JV+football%2C+Aug.30.+
Emeli Escalante
Freshman Kaylen De Los Santos cheering in JV football, Aug.30.

According to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) demographics database in 2022, Black student-athletes were 16% of the student-athlete population. Black athletes continue to be the minority in most sports teams.

Being the only Black athlete in a sport can push the student to feel out of place and struggle to find those they can relate to in the sports team, especially if it’s a team sport.

“For my soccer team, I’m the only black person there, so sometimes, I feel out of sorts, even though there are Hispanic people, and I’m Afro-Latino. I still feel somewhat connected to the Hispanic people on my team, but sometimes I feel a little left out because nobody understands the issues and struggles of being a black person,” sophomore Linda Hamilton Valdez said.

Hamilton Valdez also highlighted the difference between having a Black person and a White person coaching her a sport.

“For basketball, I had a black coach, so I felt I was always involved and I always felt a part of the team, but sometimes I feel out of sorts, like when I’m in my soccer team, because the coach is white. I feel like she puts more attention on the white players,” Hamilton Valdez said.

Despite the differences, Hamilton Valdez still approached the conversation with a level of opportunity to educate coaches to be more inclusive.

“Educate themselves on things to say and not to say. There’s a lot of things you can’t say to a black person like, or you can’t do to a black person like touching their hair, or you know, saying like the N-word,” Hamilton Valdez said.

With the experience of being a minority in sports also comes the expectation that may oppress Black athletes.

“Some sports, they will say like ‘Oh, that’s for not for colored people like swimming’. African Americans or colored people doing swimming, it’s kind of hard for them because they feel like that stereotype that colored people can’t swim and stuff like that or like the tennis team. There’s not a lot of colored people on that team. African Americans feel like they have to prove something if they do make the team,” sophomore Leyara Hall said.

Hall has been doing sports since she was eight years old. She started in gymnastics and basketball. Now, she also does track. Doing track, there was a shadow of expectation following her due to her race.

“You just have to stay focused and try hard. Try harder, probably, because they’re always going to have doubt in you. I will say, as an athlete, but also, the sports I’m doing expect a lot of African Americans to do well at it, like track,” Hall said.

Freshman Kaylen De Los Santos Medina is an athlete in four sports: indoor track, outdoor track, competition cheer and sideline cheer. During her time as a student-athlete, she has also seen the expectations placed on Black athletes.

I’ve seen people get stereotyped and I’ve seen people expect Black people to be so much better, and that could be a good thing in some ways but that’s also like ‘We’re human, too’,” De Los Santos Medina said. “I feel like they get more stressed and feel the need to be better than they should be

— Freshman Kaylen De Los Santos

The pressure to perform can be intensified for athletes whose bodies act as instruments. Sophomore Rekik Zelalem explained the feeling and the emotions that follow.

“A lot of ups and downs. There are times when an athlete feels like they’re not good enough or they’re just not improving. You just have to keep trying. There’s always, as long as you keep trying, improvements,” Zelalem said.

Hall has also faced off with the expectations that she described as prominent for African Americans. Despite trying to set aside these expectations she had to come to terms that outsiders look at her in that light no matter what.

“I try to focus more on a sport, not just me being an African American, but I’d also have to think about that when I’m doing my sport because that’s just how the world is gonna look,” Hall said.

 

Playing the sport

Sophomore Tylen Brutus started running track because of his mother who also did the sport.

“My mom ran track during high school, so I kinda got the inspiration from her and then I started running track in eighth-grade middle school and then I was just like I did it last year so I might as well do it now,” Brutus said.

Although track is an independent sport, he still found his team to come together and build a community.

“You’re trying to beat your own time and not focus on beating everyone else, and even though it’s centered more around your performance, it’s still kind of a team and everyone still works together,” Brutus said.

Going through the sport, Brutus didn’t experience any discrimination, but he did encounter casual jokes that could be deemed as insensitive.

“Sometimes people make jokes, sometimes people say something, and sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s not,” Brutus said.

With a new set of hardships as an athlete, Brutus recommended solving those problems with hard work and consistency in the sport.

“Try your best. Sometimes it can be stressful because you don’t know if you’re going to make the team or not. Just work hard towards your goals,” Brutus said. “Once you get into things, try your best. A lot of people feel like they don’t have to try their best because they got in, putting little effort or almost no effort. If you try your best in everything you do, it’s a good way to go about things. You don’t want to grow up and be like if I put in my full potential into something I could have been in this place rather than the place I am right now. I know a lot of people that grew up and went ‘I could have been big in this or big from that’, so just try your best.”

Sophomore Na’im Sampson plays football and basketball, he plays basketball at the JV level due to an injury during football season. He had a similar background with joining his sports.

“I started seventh grade. I always played up. My dad used to play football for Harrisonburg, he won the only state championship for Harrisonburg football and I liked playing sports,” Sampson said.

He gave paralleling advice to upcoming athletes in similar sports.

“Push yourself and don’t let nobody get in your head, and always listen to the coach because they know what they’re talking about,” Sampson said.

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