An allegation that someone in Creighton Prep’s student section directed a racial slur at Bellevue West star Chucky Hepburn during Saturday night’s high school basketball game at Prep has touched off discussions and soul-searching.
Hepburn’s father, Greg Hepburn Jr., a locally well-known basketball coach and mental health counselor who has been outspoken on issues of racism and racial reconciliation, posted about the incident on Twitter. The post drew messages of support from a wide variety of people across the community, and led to multiple conversations among Prep administrators, Greg Hepburn and Bellevue West officials.
So last night, I heard that racial slurs were yelled at our son. Not surprised, it is what it is. But @Meli4Hep, I’m so proud of the foundation we gave our boys! Too strong to be weak, oh & hold 3️⃣2️⃣ of these right quick! I was going to 🤐 but.. #SilenceEmpowers #TheyGoLo #WeGoHi https://t.co/VlIHtm3jrR— Coach_Hep (@coach_GQ) February 1, 2021
In an interview, Greg Hepburn said his son was called the n-word late in a dramatic game between the highly ranked teams.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, the fact that a young man thinks that something like that is OK,” Hepburn said. “It’s unfortunate that my child had to hear it, but ... the foundation that my wife and I have laid within both of our sons is cemented in the fact that understanding ignorance and prejudice of that type of nature cannot stop him from doing the things that he wants to do.”
In response to questions from The World-Herald, a Prep spokeswoman released a statement from the school’s dean of students, Sterling Brown.
“Any and all racist and discriminatory language is contrary to our values and the spirit of the Creighton Prep community and will not be tolerated,” Brown wrote. “As you might expect, we do not comment publicly about a disciplinary issue related to one of our students. We take this matter very seriously and are working with Bellevue West and Mr. Hepburn to address this issue.”
Bellevue West referred questions to a Bellevue Public Schools spokeswoman. Amanda Oliver, director of communications for the school district, said Bellevue West leaders had been in contact with Prep administrators.
“Bellevue Public Schools does not condone the use of racial slurs in any manner or environment,” Oliver said by email. “We are disheartened by this situation and we appreciate the Creighton Prep administration investigating this important concern.”
Greg Hepburn said Prep officials had told him that they questioned students, and none of them said they had uttered the n-word or heard another student do so.
“That changes nothing of what my son said to me and what I believe occurred,” he said. “I know it happened.”
It “wasn’t the entire student section, maybe just one kid,” Greg Hepburn said. “He just heard one specific voice. He didn’t know who it was.”
The elder Hepburn said he and his wife, Meliza, were at the game and didn’t realize at the moment what had happened.
“My wife and I always love the Prep crowd, the student section, because they’re so often creative with their responses and the things that they do; they have so much energy,” said Greg Hepburn, who coaches freshman boys basketball for Bellevue West and has run a youth basketball program for years. “We always get a kick out of it.”
A video recording from the Bellevue West-Prep game caught a fan yelling “Chucky can’t shoot.“ Greg Hepburn thought that was good fun, especially after his son put up 32 points in the game.
The younger Hepburn, last year’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Nebraska, is a senior who has committed to play basketball at the University of Wisconsin. He is accustomed to loud crowds. But the young man’s attitude toward the Prep students seemed to change late in the game Saturday. There was a controversial foul call that went Chucky Hepburn’s way. He slid into the Creighton student section bleachers after a collision on the play.
The younger Hepburn heard something that made him turn and stare into the crowd, “and there was some discussion that took place,” his father said. Later, after Chucky led his team to a comeback win, he taunted the Prep fans — and his father wasn’t happy about that.
“After the game, he was kind of talking a little bit more than we cared for, and I was a little alarmed by it,” Greg Hepburn said. “I was planning on talking to him, to let him know that you need to have a better representation.”
Then he found out why his son was upset. A Bellevue West assistant coach told him that Chucky had said someone had called him the n-word. He confirmed that to his parents later. At first, they were going to ignore it. Greg Hepburn said Chucky was handling it well.
“He was kind of of the same mindset as I was, that we were just going to let it lie and just continue to move forward,” Greg Hepburn said.
But after talking with his wife, he decided he needed to speak out about it.
“Being silent leads to continuation, and that was the point my wife made that just stood out to me and kind of solidified the fact that we should say something,” said Hepburn, who last summer helped young Black people in Bellevue organize an anti-racism rally that included police. “I say it all the time, especially during a lot of the racial tensions: Do not be violent. Do not be silent. This was my opportunity to put that into practice.”
He hopes, he said, that the resulting conversations lead “to education, and an evolution of mindset so that people can grow and understand a little bit better ... and hopefully it would change the interactions.”
George Achola is an Omaha attorney and business executive who graduated from Creighton Prep in 1987. He said he “proudly wears Creighton Prep’s symbol on his chest” because of what the school stands for and for what its Jesuit priests did for him. Achola, who is Black, said he did not encounter any overt prejudice during his years at Prep or as a Nebraska football player.
Achola said he thinks some people feel more comfortable about airing their racial animus now. Achola said a parent or grandparent on the sidelines used the n-word referring to his daughter at a soccer game in Lincoln a couple years ago.
Last year, fans hurled racist slurs at Lincoln High girls basketball players at a game at Fremont High. The most notorious such incident occurred in Omaha in 2010, when Lincoln East High School fans rained green cards on the Morrison Stadium field after a state soccer tournament game against Omaha South.
Achola said he expects Creighton Prep to investigate the report thoroughly and discipline those responsible.
“I would hope that those students that were around them, if that’s what happened, would have the honor and integrity to say that is in fact what happened,” he said. “As a proud Black alumnus of Creighton Prep, I apologize to Greg and his family.”