Poster in Kelso gym sends wrong message to all

Greg Jayne: Commentary

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At best, it was insensitive. At worst, it was something more sinister.

And as the dust settles from the Evergreen girls basketball team’s visit to Kelso on Jan. 28, we are left with an upset coach, an angry blog posting, a livid parent, and a school principal engaged in damage control.

Let’s start at the beginning. When the Evergreen girls traveled to Kelso, they were greeted by a large sign in the gymnasium. The poster depicted a black person with “Evergreen” written on him, lying on a bed with a huge afro and an afro pick in the hair. There was a ghostly skeleton with a “K” on the skull tormenting the black figure, and lettering that read “Kelso will bring nightmares.”

“In my heart, I wanted to think someone just didn’t pay enough attention to it,” Evergreen coach Jay Foreman said. “I would say the picture on the wall was insensitive in a racial way.”

Foreman is black, as are several of his players. Yet it’s hard to believe that color determines whether or not a person can understand the ugliness of stereotypes.

That, perhaps, is the most disconcerting part of the episode. According to Kelso principal Adele Marshall, the sign was painted — along with those depicting other Kelso opponents — by students in an advanced art class at the school, and the signs had been posted in the gym throughout the season. Marshall said nobody had complained until an Evergreen parent did so.

In an age of political correctness run amok, it would be easy to overreact to such a thing. Yet the fact that nobody called the poster into question, the fact that the Kelso administrators and teachers and coaches and fans did not complain about the sign demonstrates the need for political correctness.

Singling out an opponent for its racial diversity and depicting that opponent with a huge afro is offensive. There’s nothing political about it.

Marshall said all the signs were removed the day following the game. The practice of creating posters will be revisited prior to next season.

“We want to promote school spirit,” she said. “Can we do the posters with just promoting our school and not putting down another school?”

Evergreen athletic director Keenan Burris is comfortable with that resolution.

“I felt Kelso acted appropriately,” he said. “We’ve kind of closed the book on it.”

But that’s not good enough for Holli Scott, the mother of Evergreen player Shamerica Scott. And that’s where this gets messy.

In addition to concerns over the poster, the Evergreen camp was apoplectic about the officiating in the game, which was a 56-46 victory for Kelso.

“There has been an ongoing under-the-carpet feeling . . . that when you go to Longview/Kelso in any sport . . . you’re not going to receive a fairly officiated contest,” Foreman wrote on a blog hosted by the Evergreen Web site. “I’m willing to put it out in the open.”

According to Foreman, his team was whistled for 16 traveling violations compared with four for Kelso. According to statistics called in to The Columbian, Evergreen shot 16 free throws compared with 33 for Kelso.

Burris, the Evergreen AD, remained diplomatic: “Officiating is always a concern. You get the same complaints down here that you do up there.”

That’s not how Scott sees it. Her daughter was injured during the game, and following the injury Holli Scott attempted to remove the sign, which eventually was taken down by Kelso officials. Now Scott says she has retained a lawyer to explore legal action.

“Overall, I would like for that game to be recalled,” she said. “They don’t deserve to have that game because of the calls and they take out the top player.”

The thought of imploring the courts to nullify a midseason girls basketball game would seem to be a misuse of the justice system. And it would seem to obscure the larger issue of racial insensitivity.

Foreman said: “As the evening went on, there were a number of verbal confrontations between one of the officials and myself.”

According to Foreman, at one point he was looking at the referee in question and received a response, “Don’t eyeball me.”

“My family is from the South, and whenever a big police officer says, ‘Don’t eyeball me,’ you might as well say ‘Boy’ with it.”

Foreman, 52, is in his first year as a varsity coach and has a wealth of experience coaching club teams in the area. And while we ponder the ugliness of Evergreen’s trip to Kelso and the ill feelings that are lingering for many involved, we’ll leave it to his blog entry to provide a voice of reason:

“I’m disappointed on a number of levels, but even with this we must take it as a learning experience and prepare for the next phase,” he wrote. “So we will prepare.”

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail atgreg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go tocolumbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne