Last week, rumors started trickling in that a handful of Montgomery Bell students were not representing the high-minded "Gentleman, Scholar, Athlete" ideals of their tony West End school. The accusation? During a Jan. 16 boys' basketball game, standout Ensworth guard Tavarres Jefferson was taunted with chants of "Hooked on Phonics" (clap clap, clap clap clap).
Jefferson, who is black, was apparently unfazed by the taunts, as he and Ensworth went on to beat the Big Red by nine. But parents of the opposing team were less forgiving. After several complaints were lodged, MBA headmaster Bradford Gioia acted swiftly, meeting with about a dozen of the most vocal senior boys a day after the game and putting the kibosh on the chant. Phonics
has been a weapon in the MBA armament for as long as he can remember, says Gioia, usually as a retaliatory lob at Father Ryan students who chant "Da-ddy's Mo-ney" (clap clap, clap clap clap). It's all a part of the grand tradition of young men teasing those who oppose them at sporting events, something they probably learned while watching their dad flip off a Ravens' fan at LP Field.
The phonics taunt became a loaded weapon, however, when employed by a mob of well-heeled children of privilege at the expense of a black kid. Something Gioia, to his credit, was quick to acknowledge.
"(MBA kids) have been saying that for 10 years, with the insinuation being 'you're dumb,' " he says. "They didn't have any intention to be racist. But when the line between what's funny and what's spirited gets muddled, it's best to step away from it."