On Tuesday afternoon, a group of varsity soccer players from opposing schools took the pitch for warmups, outfitted in the same colors, choosing for a moment to share a message of unity and inclusion, rather than the harsh divide often created by high school athletics.
The boys from East High School and Cottonwood High School dawned navy blue shirts with the words “One Kind, Humankind” in bright, bold, white letters, proudly sprawled across their chests. Their backs echoed a clearer message -- “Eliminate Hate.”
Several months ago East High Head Coach Rudy Schenk approached Real Salt Lake Community about partnering in a player-driven initiative to create warm up tops to spread a message of unification and kindness.
“Racial slurs are frequently heard on the field at high school soccer games,” RSL V.P. of Community Relations Mary VanMinde said, “We are excited for this opportunity to partner with these teams on this project.”
After several brainstorming sessions, the two sides established the messaging of One Kind/Humankind and realized quickly that interest to participate was much wider than originally anticipated.
As it stands, all coaches and players from 6A, 5A and Region 9 4A schools will be sporting the warmup tops for the 2021 Utah High School Athletic Association season.
Prior to Tuesday afternoon’s match, RSL invited all the captains from those schools to Rio Tinto Stadium where they toured the stadium, met with RSL Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran and discussed the RSL WAY and its core values -- pride, community, industry, harmony, integrity. The RSL team also donated all of their 2020 training gear for the captains to take home.
During the tour, Beltran raised an inquisitive question to the boys - have you heard racial slurs while playing soccer this year? Hands all around the room slowly went up, acknowledging their experience. Beltran then asked, has it happened in the last month? Hands all over remained raised in the air, with 30 percent of them hearing slurs in the last week.
Tuesdays match between East and Cottonwood presented one of their first opportunities for the players to display what they learned just a few days prior and to further establish that in Utah High School soccer, name-calling simply has no place. While there certainly was a result, the final score of the match pales in comparison to the commitment of these young athletes to actively make a change in their communities, because ultimately we are all one kind -- humankind.