PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Members of a high school girls basketball team in Portland are speaking up after they say they had racial slurs yelled at them during a game.
The superintendent at Parkrose School District says it happened to their student athletes while they were playing against St. Helens.
The girls and their coach spoke with FOX 12 Wednesday night and said this isn’t the first time it has happened. While the team was playing against St. Helens last week, their coach said fans were making monkey noises and calling her athletes the n-word.
“It’s frustrating to know that their safety is in harm’s way,” Krystal Forthan, the girls’ first-year varsity coach, said.
Forthan says fans started yelling slurs during junior-varsity games, and then it trickled into the varsity game.
Last week, a letter from the Parkrose School District’s superintendent went home to parents, saying that an “unfortunate incident” happened at Tuesday night’s game at St. Helens High School. Student athletes, staff and families, it says, experienced racial gestures and slurs and abusive language.
"You’re trying to have good sportsmanship, and you’re trying to focus on your team and trying to get the win, and then you have people saying racial slurs in the audience, and it’s hard for us to focus when you’re hearing people call you the n-word, making monkey noises … I feel like we got the point where we’re tired of hearing it,” Brianna Benjamin, a student athlete, said.
The coaches had an action plan after the game: they would shake hands and walk immediately back to the bus. But that didn’t stop the horrible language.
“I don’t know where these girls got the strength to literally walk on that bus, not saying anything at all,” Chloe E., the team’s administrator, said. “I’m grateful at how they did handle themselves.”
The students who have played St. Helens High School before say this isn’t the first time it’s happened. For Teniya Green, the captain of the team, those actions hit hard.
“I broke down in class because it was like, I had to let it out, because I wasn’t gonna do it in front of them,” Green said. “My dad didn’t teach me to be like that towards people, like it wasn’t even for me, it was for my girls, they’re scared and I’m captain and I’m supposed to be like, ‘girls, we’re good, we got it, let’s keep positive.’”
The St. Helens superintendent says they have taken “appropriate action".
Their statement to FOX 12 says, in part, that they “are working closely with the Parkrose School District to rebuild trust with both their student athletes and the Parkrose community. As a district, we strive to embrace diversity and strongly oppose any form of discrimination.”
The statement goes on to say that they hope they “are able to turn this unfortunate incident into a valuable learning experience.”
The Parkrose varsity girls, however, feel an apology isn’t enough. They say they want to see action taken against St. Helens High School sports.
The Oregon Schools Activities Association released a statement saying, “This type of behavior is unacceptable at high school events.”
“Our focus has been on getting the two schools, specifically their administrative teams, talking to one another and supporting them in their collaborative efforts to address what took place and prevent future incidents. Administrators from both schools have connected and are working together to insure a safe and welcoming environment for all moving forward,” according to an OSAA statement.
OSAA’s guidelines for schools regarding sportsmanship and event management can be found at osaa.org.
The Parkrose superintendent said in their letter to FOX 12 that they’ve asked the St. Helens School District to provide more security, including school resource officers at games.
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