The Camas School District is investigating allegations of racist taunting at a high school girls basketball game last month.
The investigation follows a complaint by Eric Knox, girls basketball head coach at Portland’s Benson High. He said his team, which is predominantly Black, was subjected to taunts and racist slurs from the Camas student section during a game on Dec. 10.
Three days later, Knox filed a complaint with the Camas School Board. Interim superintendent Doug Hood said the district began to take action right away.
“That same day, we launched an investigation led by a neutral third party and consulted with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA),” Hood said in a letter to Camas parents sent Monday.
Hood said interviews have been conducted with spectators, student athletes and staff present at the game. He said Benson coaches and players would likely be interviewed this week.
In his complaint, Knox said the slurs first began during the junior varsity game. His varsity players, who were sitting near the Camas student section, reported hearing students using racist language, including the “N-word.”
“I took their words in and encouraged them to ignore them, and allow our play to be the response to their racism,” Knox wrote. “I assured them that I had their back and that unfortunately racism is a fact and a reality for us, and they will have to navigate this the rest of their lives.”
The Columbian has reviewed footage of the game. While the audio quality makes it impossible to hear individual students above the crowd’s din, a flashpoint occurs midway through the third quarter.
A Benson player drives to the basket, and Camas is called for a foul. At this moment, junior Onna Brown appears to gesture toward the Camas student section. Then she comes over to the Benson bench to talk to her coaches.
Knox appears to tell her to keep playing. As play resumes, one of the Benson assistants tells Knox that he is going to speak to someone. As the assistant walks along the baseline, Knox calls timeout, then walks across the court to the student section, gesturing at the students. He is intercepted by one of the referees, who walks Knox back to the bench. Knox is animated and says something to the effect of “if I come out onto the floor, it’s a big problem.”
Meanwhile, the person the assistant coach went to talk to looks to be Camas athletic director Rory Oster, who was standing near a door about 20 feet from the student section. After the assistant coach talks to Oster, Oster walks over and talks to the students, then returns to his spot by the door.
Knox wrote that his walking onto the court was the culmination of complaints from his players throughout the game.
“Throughout the game, both during play and timeouts, a number of my players told me one-on-one that they were hearing individuals from the student section using the N-word to taunt our players,” Knox wrote. “Additionally, Benson parents came to me and said that they heard people in the Camas student section using very derogatory language about our players and felt it created a very hostile environment. By the second half, I had heard the same thing from enough players that I finally had to take action.”
After confronting the student section, Knox said he told the referees he would pull his team off the court if the behavior didn’t stop. Referees assured him they would not tolerate any racist taunts and, after Knox huddled with his players, Benson agreed to finish the game.
Benson won 60-52. Knox said the Camas players were “great” and none engaged in any objectionable conduct.
Hood said more Camas students and staff will be interviewed as the investigation proceeds. While he did not give an estimate of when the investigation might conclude, his letter to Camas parents came after copies of Knox’s complaint began to circulate online among the Camas and Benson communities and local media last week.
“Racist slurs and remarks have no place in our schools or anywhere and will not be tolerated,” Hood said. “We take these accusations very seriously and are committed to aiding a complete and thorough investigation. In our schools, in our hallways and in our community, it is a shared responsibility to call out injustice and racism.”