'Racial taunting' at North Dakota basketball game prompts call for harsher consequences
Parents of Bismarck High School basketball players said no action was taken when the Jamestown student section acted out during the Jan. 31 game.
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Four parents have sent the North Dakota High School Activities Association a letter of complaint claiming school administrators are allowing racial slurs and taunting that includes monkey screeches and war cries aimed at students of color during sporting events.
The complaint stemmed from a varsity basketball game between Jamestown High School and Bismarck High School on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Some of the taunts at Tuesday's game can be heard in video clips posted to social media.
The parents claim in their letter that on-site administrators did nothing to intervene. Parents told The Forum this is not an isolated incident.
Late Thursday, both school districts issued statements and promises of change, but concerned parents are seeking permanent, sweeping changes with more severe consequences for what they called "racial taunting."
“During a school-sanctioned basketball game on January 31, 2023, Bismarck High School vs Jamestown High School, multiple incidents occurred involving the use of racial slurs directed toward BHS student-athletes. These slurs were vocalized by the Jamestown student section directed toward the only nonwhite players for BHS,” the parents' letter of complaint said.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association, or NDHSAA, which works with high schools across the state to promote interscholastic activities and elevate standards in good sportsmanship, said in an email that schools involved in regular season contests investigate their own incidents involving students and fans.
Jamestown Public Schools' administration was made aware of the “potential discriminatory remarks made by the Jamestown High School student cheering section” after the game, according to a statement from Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar and Superintendent Robert Lech.
An investigation began the next day, and they discovered a handful of Jamestown Middle School and Jamestown High School students took part in racially insensitive remarks and actions, according to the district.
“These actions are not supported by Jamestown Public Schools or the community of Jamestown and have resulted in appropriate disciplinary action per our anti-harassment and discrimination policy,” Gehlhar and Lech wrote.
“Beyond the more immediate consequences for misconduct, Jamestown Public Schools is responsible for facilitating healing with Bismarck High School, players, coaches, fans and community,” Gehlhar and Lech wrote, adding that they will partner with Bismarck to consider restorative practices.
Additionally, student leaders are working with building administrators "to consider the road forward and improve cultural competence,” Gehlhar and Lech said.
Bismarck Public Schools said in a statement that the district values inclusion as one of its core values and condemns all forms of discrimination.
"We appreciate the open dialogue and rapid response from Jamestown Public Schools, specifically their initiated interest and willingness to support our students in the healing process," the Bismarck School District said.
The students who were targeted by the taunting and their parents want more immediate intervention. The NDHSAA has guidelines in its code of conduc t that stipulate on-the-spot action.
“Profanity, negative chants, trash talk, name-calling, personal attacks or other acts of disrespect are unacceptable and must be immediately addressed by school/tournament administrators,” the code of conduct states.
Bismarck High basketball player Andre Austin, who is Black and Native American, said in a statement that during most games he is able to ignore noise from the crowd, but during Tuesday's game, a student called him the N-word.
“After being fouled on a drive, I get to the free throw and do my regular routine. That’s when I heard loud chanting and noise making of a monkey. I was immediately shocked and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he said.
He missed the first shot. Just before the second shot, the monkey noise came again, he said, but he didn't miss.
“Until I ran by the student section and some boy yelled to me, ‘Come on you little N-word,’ I couldn’t believe it. My heart raced and I felt so embarrassed and angry,” Andre said.
When he returned to the bench, his legs and hands shook uncontrollably.
“I did my best to tune them out, but once again at the free throw line I heard the chanting. I felt like I was alone and no one else felt this was offensive. This was my first experience having to endure such hatred and harassment,” he said.
Andre's parents, Savannah Jade Alkire and Quinn Austin, and the parents of Bismarck player Teysean Eaglestaff, Kate and Lance Eaglestaff, submitted the letter of complaint to the NDHSAA.
Alkire said Tuesday's taunting was not a first and that similar name-calling has happened before.
“The racial taunting that is occurring should never be minimized. The emotional distress it has on these players is long-lasting. They will never forget what they experienced that night,” Alkire said.
Quinn Austin said he couldn't believe what he was hearing when his son stepped up to the free-throw line. Angry, he tried to talk to administrators, but nothing was done about the taunting, and he felt helpless, he said.
"I said, 'alright, excuse me. I just witnessed you go confront a grown man for about two minutes on how to conduct himself, yet you have these racist kids over here making 'effing monkey noises while my son shoots free throws, and that's okay with you?'" Austin recalled.
“At the end of the game, I couldn’t even look at my son, because I couldn't even look him in the eye. I was afraid of making him feel bad,” Quinn Austin said. “He was barely keeping it in. He was crying."
Lance Eaglestaff said his son, Teysean, who is Native American and a junior at Bismarck High, also endured bigoted chanting on Jan. 31.
“Students from Jamestown High School in ND are showing their racist colors when they mock Lakota basketball player with Hollywood warhooping when he gets the ball,” Lance Eaglestaff wrote in a Facebook post .
Lance Eaglestaff told The Forum similar taunting has occurred in the past, but school administrators and referees turned a blind eye.
“It’s got to stop. It’s 2023, and my kids should not have to deal with racism. Something needs to be done against any racial slurs or gestures at any high school facilities, and if they can’t punish the students, then punish the administration,” he said. “I am frustrated, and I’m tired of it."
Alkire said she wants to see a zero-tolerance policy enforced.
“We have to put this in context. My son is 15 out there, being harassed and taunted like this. God, he’s expected to be a professional and a good sportsman and all these standards of a good athlete, but the student section is allowed to do racial taunting?” Alkire said. “We aren’t going to be silent until change is implemented."