'Green cards' bring suspensionsSeveral Lincoln East students were suspended Wednesday in connection with a postgame incident that sullied the high school's Tuesday night boys state soccer championship match against Omaha South.
The students admitted making and distributing “green cards,” a reference to immigration status aimed at South's largely Latino soccer team.
Also Wednesday, dozens of East students began forming a group to “plan action steps to mend bridges with the South High community,” said Dennis Mann, East's associate principal.
“Their foremost concern is not how to protect our reputation, but how to heal hurt relationships with South,” he said.
East won the game 4-2 in overtime. But what happened afterwards marred the victory.
Dozens of green paper rectangles were tossed into the air as fans and players celebrated on the field at Creighton University's Morrison Stadium. The “green cards” lay at midfield behind the Lincoln players and coaches as they received their trophy and medals.
As soon as the ceremony ended, several East administrators and a tearful student rushed onto the field and hurriedly scooped up the paper.
The incident offended South staff and supporters, many of whom had attended graduation ceremonies just before the game.
The incident turned what should have been a joyful Wednesday at East into “a day of mourning,” Mann said.
“The day after you win a state championship, there should be celebrations,” he said. “That's not what's happening. . . . It doesn't feel right to celebrate.”
Mann said that only one person, whom he would identify only as a “Lincoln East fan,” actually threw cards on the field.
“One fan threw a stack of cards,” he said.
He said video of the postgame celebration confirmed that.
When pressed whether the person was an East student, an adult or a college student, as some reports have claimed, Mann would say only, “I'm going to call him a Lincoln East fan.”
“We're taking ownership of this,” he said.
East students made the cards and distributed them, and some other students knew about it and didn't stop it, Mann said.
The students' original intention, he said, was to have the crowd hold up the cards en masse during the game, the way a soccer referee would hold up a red or yellow card.
“Very inappropriate, and very hurtful,” Mann said. “But we were able to put the kibosh on that, thanks to some students who did step up (and tell administrators). But we were appalled and ashamed to see the cards come out on the field.”
He said the students who had planned the green card stunt did not know about the fan's plan to throw them onto the field.
“The kids who have had disciplinary action taken against them are also agreeing to be part of the solution,” Mann said. “They have agreed to take actions, including writing letters of apology, to help heal the hurt that they have caused.”
Lincoln East Principal Susan Cassata said East's athletic director sent an apology to South's athletic director. Cassata said she planned to apologize to South Principal Cara Riggs.
“There are a number of students in some classes who are upset about this and are in the process of writing apologies on their own,” Cassata said.
She said East administrators and faculty will express their disappointment to students “and how that makes us look as an institution, and how we're going to grow from this.”
“It's probably the most heart-wrenching, disappointing event that I've ever been around with students and their behavior that tarnished an event that was otherwise spectacular on both sides,” Cassata said.
South players appeared to ignore the green cards, if they saw them. But many coaches and fans noticed them.
South Athletic Director Roni Huerta said the school had received several calls Wednesday morning.
She said the South community was offended and needs to be assured that Lincoln school officials “are dealing with this at the highest level.”
Riggs said Wednesday that South and East administrators are trying to work together to deal with the incident and prevent things like it from happening in the future.
“We're very grateful that they're being sensitive and responsive to what happened, and that they're taking it very seriously,” she said.
“Sometimes in our own school community, a few kids do something that can represent our whole school community, so we can feel for that, too.”
She said South leaders “don't want it to take away from a beautiful graduation and a beautiful (soccer) season and an amazing setting for most of the evening.”
Omaha Police Capt. Rich Gonzalez grimaced as the cloud of green paper fluttered onto the field in front of what was believed to be the largest crowd in state high school soccer history.
“To try to humiliate another team, especially when it has to do with race, is a complete act of unsportsmanship,” Gonzalez said.
A few minutes later, an East student was distraught as she picked up the paper.
“This makes me want to cry,” she said. “This does not represent my school.”
South coach Joe Maass called the tossing of the cards “classless.'' Maass talked to East coach Jeff Hoham about the incident.
“Fans do silly things,” Hoham told Maass. “Make sure your kids know it wasn't intentional.”
“It never is,” Maass replied as he walked away.