The New Racism

Nothing's black and white at Millennium High School

What follows is Mack's version of the story.

When Mack confronted Butler that afternoon in October, he wanted to know, first off, why the tryouts lasted only two days. Mack has coached before and, in his experience, sometimes you don't know a kid's name after two days.

Butler told Mack he knows talent when he sees it -- and he and his staff needed only two days to see it.


Photo Illustrations by Jeff Newton

Mack asked why no black kids made the jayvee or freshman squads.

Butler said race played no role when he determined his teams. He said he's a Christian man.

Mack persisted, saying teachers today should be more sensitive to their students. He brought up Columbine. In Mack's view, what happened there was, in part, teachers' insensitivity toward struggling young men.

Mack says Butler ended the conversation.

The next day, Mack says, he got a phone call from Bill McMillian, assistant principal and athletic director at Millennium. McMillian wanted Mack to come in, saying that he was troubled by some of the comments Mack made to Butler. Mack asked if he should bring a lawyer. McMillian said if he did, he would not talk.

So instead, Mack brought a tape recorder and hid it in his coat pocket. (Under Arizona law, only one party needs to know a tape recorder is being used.)

Mack gave New Times a copy of the tape.

The father listened as McMillian and Dennis Runyon, another assistant principal, talked about the previous day. "The thing is," Runyon said, "you come in in a semi-unannounced situation . . . you go into that environment and in a single meeting when discussing [why] your son was cut, you've extended the conversation to the point of discussing the shooting at Columbine and who's at fault. That's a threat in [Butler's] view."

Mack said he was only trying to make a point about kids' self-esteem -- how teachers need to foster it as well as parents. Mack called Butler "paranoid." He called Butler "half a man" for not being present at the meeting. Mack said when he talked with Butler the day before, he was made to feel like a "second-class citizen."

Runyon said he knew what that felt like. He told Mack he came to Millennium from a high school in Philadelphia where he served as principal and where 50 percent of the student body was black. "I learned a lot," Runyon said. "I learned a lot about relationships. . . . But I also went through relationships, just to relate to what you're feeling, I had parents that wouldn't meet with me, that wouldn't talk with me, because I was white. They wouldn't come in my office. . . . So, I understand what you're saying about that. I respect that --"

"It's very bad here," Mack said. "Black parents don't get involved in a lot of things."

"I went through some experiences where I grew," Runyon continued. "I learned about that. So I understand that there's a definite" -- pause -- "feeling that can be there."

After talking more about Columbine, Mack said to Runyon, "You know, a lot of times, I feel that teachers aren't as diversified as you are. You know, maybe perhaps they should take diversification classes."

Runyon said the school's committed to diversity.

When the basketball season began two months later, three black students started varsity for Millennium.

Tiffeny Denman is Michael Mack's girlfriend and just as active in questioning school policy as he is. In early December, she wrote a letter to the school asking why it didn't have a black student union.

Denman didn't hear back, so in mid-December, she and Mack circulated a petition at Millennium asking all students to sign who were interested in forming a black student union.

Many kids tell New Times they signed because they felt they learned nothing about black history or culture in school.

Which doesn't surprise Denman, who grew up in the Valley. In school, "the only thing we learned about black people was slavery," she says.

At the start of the new year, there were 26 names on the BSU sign-up sheet.

Administrators at Millennium say if there's interest in a BSU, all the kids need is a sponsor. There is no need for a petition.

Yet Mack says he was told by assistant principal Bill McMillian that no teacher or administrator was willing to sponsor the group. McMillian denies that, saying he doesn't know about students having difficulty finding a sponsor.

For principal Haiflich, the flap over a black student union is a microcosm of the racism allegations as a whole: a group of people blowing something out of proportion until a controversy surrounds it. "I wonder," she says, pinching together her forefinger and thumb, "if some parents aren't taking a grain of salt and running with it."

Perhaps Haiflich shouldn't dismiss Michael Mack so easily. After all, he won that lawsuit from Direct Marketing Services for $700,000.

But while it's difficult to question what a federal court found to be racism, this case is much grayer. Two minority kids cut from the jayvee basketball team who spoke to New Times anonymously say Mack is seeking revenge at Millennium because his son was also cut from the team.

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