Murph's Turf: Ridgefield girls tennis team covers hate with art

Anabel Cordano isn’t sure how the sticks of colored chalk arrived. Perhaps a teammate brought them, or maybe a random student left them there earlier, before the match started.

That detail was trivial. The significance came from what several fellow members of the Ridgefield High girls tennis team began doing with the chalk during the Tigers' recent season-opening match against Trumbull at the RHS courts.

They started drawing. Hearts, rainbows, stars … words such as “love,” “peace” and “unity” — all rendered with vibrant, neon colors in a neo-psychedelic style worthy of a Hendrix/Joplin concert poster from the 60’s.

“The artwork was done after some of the matches — since it was on one of the courts, the girls finished their own matches, and then made the art while the last two doubles matches were playing out (on separate courts),” said Cordano, a senior captain who plays second singles for Ridgefield. “Not everyone on the team took part, simply because some girls were still playing, others were trying to stay warm while watching the last match, etc.”

By the time the match ended, the spontaneous art project covered the blank, grayish spot that had clashed with the forest-green of the tennis courts. It was the spot where someone had scratched in a swastika and a racial slur the previous week. The racial slur was explicit: It called a current African-American student at RHS the n-word.

The incident — not the first at the high school or in Ridgefield — prompted letters to parents and students from Dr. Stacey Gross, the RHS principal, and Dr. Karen Baldwin, Ridgefield’s superintendent of schools. The response focused on action and solutions, leading school officials to arrange a Peace Out event on April 3 that included students using colored chalk to draw inspirational words and symbols along the sidewalk outside RHS.

A few hours later, some of that chalk was put to use at the tennis courts, the scene of the awfulness.

“I think the overall message is just love and peace throughout the community,” said Cordano. “Everyone was shocked that someone would have enough hate and disrespect in them to write such terrible things, especially on school property, and we wanted it to be clear that that is not what we stand for.”

Obviously, it will take more than colored chalk to cover up or expunge the racist beliefs expressed through graffiti — rain the next day supplied a symbolic reminder by washing away much of the artwork. And although the graffiti incident was stark enough to produce a public outcry, subtler forms of prejudice and discrimination are routinely delivered to RHS students whose religion, skin color, surname, or sexual identity place them outside the mainstream.

But in its own small way, the spontaneous idea to replace racism with art was refreshing and hopeful. It hints at goodness and empathy, and those are never bad responses to hate.