Sports Reporter's Record, Past Overpower Rumor

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I'm disappointed.

I'm sitting here at my desk in disbelief.

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Autumn Phillips, Payson Roundup editor

On Jan. 23, we ran a story in the sports section about the Longhorn wrestlers' success in the Tim Van Horn tournament.

It was a glowing report by Max Foster of a third-place finish by Payson High School in a competitive venue.

Toward the end of the story, Foster listed all the athletes, their weight classes and their placings in the tournament. He named all the wrestlers but two.

On the same page, we ran a photo of one of the missing athletes, but it was connected to a different wrestling story.

Because I was in the office on the Sunday afternoon when Max Foster wrote the story, I know how the omission happened.

The results came to Foster by e-mail, in a format his computer couldn't read.

He forwarded the e-mail to me and I printed it out, but even my computer couldn't format the results so they printed on the same page.

Two names were printed on a second page and those names didn't make it from that second page into Max's story.

"I don't want to make excuses," Foster said. "It was an oversight."

In the next edition, we ran a correction on page 2A and tagged it with an apology. We also added the names and their places to our archived story on our Web site, payson.com.

But since the story came out, a rumor has been going around that I find disturbing and I believe it needs to be addressed.

I have received phone calls condemning Foster for his mistake and implying that he did it on purpose.

The adults who called said, each in their own way, "Isn't it a strange coincidence that both of these kids have dark skin?" Though no one has used the word "racist," it has been implied to me on several occasions.

I'm not sure who started this rumor. I'm not sure who the first person was to say this ridiculous thing out loud, but I would like the whispering to stop.

This comment, which I have heard enough times to know it is circulating, is irresponsible, it is hateful and it is untrue.

These kind of rumors have cost people their careers in this town and I will not have people talking about my reporter this way.

When Max Foster heard the insinuation for the first time, he was visibly upset.

"I made a mistake, but the part about being prejudiced, that's offensive to me, especially after 37 years of teaching and coaching," he said. "Those people don't know who I am. I don't think there's a kid I've ever taught -- from Tempe to Show Low to Payson -- who would say I made a decision on the color of their skin."

From my experience at this newspaper, I can tell you that Max Foster cares about the kids in this community. He goes out of his way to highlight the achievements -- athletic or academic -- of our students.

He should be appreciated.

He should be celebrated for all his years of service.

He should not be the victim of pettiness and mean-spirited insinuation.

Thoughts from Max Foster

As a public school teacher and coach of 37 years, I prided myself on being colorblind. I have carried that same pride over to my 20 years of work at the Payson Roundup.

What renders the unjust criticism ever more disconcerting is that I have devoted much of my career to working with underprivileged and disadvantaged students and athletes of all races.

When I graduated from Arizona State University in 1967, I accepted my first teaching/coaching job in a South Phoenix ghetto area. At my school, I was the only Anglo on campus -- teacher or student. There, I coached all-African-American and Hispanic school sports teams and was the Scoutmaster of a troop comprised entirely of Scouts of color. I chose to be at the school because I thought I could make a difference in race relations that were at the time dividing the city.

I proudly keep in a scrapbook a letter from my former principal at that school, Martha Clark, who wrote to me "it will be people like you who will someday bring better relationships and understandings to this world."

As a teacher in the Payson School District, I had posted at the front of the room a picture of Cesar Chavez and proudly told the students that he had been one of my heroes since the 1970s when he valiantly attempted to unionize farm workers in fields near Phoenix.

I walked a picket line along with those farm workers and later participated in a strike of mostly Hispanic municipal sanitation employees.

Many of those I count as my friends are Hispanic and African-American. My best man at my wedding was African-American.

I am not defending myself, but telling accusers a little about who I am.

It is disturbingly easy for unknowing critics to spread bogus, artificial and harmful allegations about someone when they know nothing about the man at whom they are pointing their fingers.

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