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Published February 21, 2012, 05:44 PM

Duluth Hockey Fans Warned After 'Smallpox Blankets' Chant Against Sioux

DULUTH - Student season-ticket holders for University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey games were warned last week to clean up their acts after complaints to the athletic department about racist chants during UMD’s series against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux on Feb. 10-11.

By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH - Student season-ticket holders for University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey games were warned last week to clean up their acts after complaints to the athletic department about racist chants during UMD’s series against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux on Feb. 10-11.

“There were some reports on some chants coming from the student section that certainly would have been considered inappropriate,” Athletic Director Bob Nielson said. “We decided it was an opportunity to reinforce our policy … to focus on cheering for our team and avoid comments that are considered inappropriate.”

Nielson sent the students a letter dated Feb. 17 that warned “any profane, racial, sexist, or abusive comments or actions directed at officials, opposing players or teams will be grounds for removal from the arena” and could result in a forfeiture of season tickets.

North Dakota fan Chad Czmowski said he was adjacent to the student section during Saturday night’s game when students began chanting “smallpox blankets” and what he described as other racist phrases and actions directed at the university’s mascot. Czmowski said other derogatory statements were specifically directed at the goalie’s mother.

“I thought it was over the top,” Czmowski said. “I’m all for rowdy cheering and rowdy student sections. (But) Personal attacks, it was too much and there is no place for it.”

Dave Zentner, a season ticket holder since 1955 who has seats near the blue line, said he didn’t hear anything racist from the student section during the series.

“I’m sure we’ve heard some dumb things over the years,” he said. “I’m not sure if they were racist or bad sportsmanship. We’ve been road warriors and have been subjected to a lot of profanity and abuse in the league. I think overall, everybody has a few silly fans.”

The chants came the weekend after the University of North Dakota resumed the use of the nickname Fighting Sioux despite threats from the NCAA that use of the nickname and logo would harm the university’s chances at hosting postseason events and what postseason-bound athletes would be able to wear.

In the letter to students, Nielson said:

“At the UMD hockey games this past weekend versus North Dakota, there were several inappropriate and offensive chants that originated from the student section. These chants used language and phrases that were both hostile and racist.”

The letter said that game personnel and university police officers will be strictly enforcing the rules and that people who violate the conduct code could be removed from a game.

Nielson said the university is working to find leaders in the student section who can help direct things in a positive direction. He said the school is not seeking out the students responsible for the chants.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Student fans were warned in 2009 about offensive chants after a game against Minnesota State-Mankato when they were heard shouting an anti-homosexual slur and a vulgar insult.

After that incident, Nielson sent a letter threatening to remove students from games and revoke their season tickets.

Bill Wade, vice chancellor for university relations and development, said after the Mankato game that police who staff the games will be more attentive to the student section.

He said that was the third incident related to offensive chants in the 12 years he had been in his position.

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