As NDHSAA tightens rules against slurs, parents and board members call for stronger consequences
New wording in the North Dakota High School Activities Association code of conduct calls for anyone making discriminatory comments to be immediately removed.
VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Just over a week after Native American and Black players were taunted by the crowd during a varsity basketball game in Jamestown, the North Dakota High School Activities Association unanimously approved a motion on Wednesday, Feb. 8, to clarify existing anti-discrimination policies.
The organization that works with high schools across the state to promote interscholastic activities and elevate standards in good sportsmanship voted to add "any discriminatory slur will result in immediate removal from the facility" to its code of conduct.
NDHSAA indicated the change is an effort to halt future racial, ethnic or gender-based slurs during sporting events in North Dakota.
Parents of the students who endured the discriminatory remarks and area Native American leaders said the change isn’t enough and called for administration, school board members, students and referees in the Jamestown school district to be held accountable.
Current guidelines state profanity, negative chants, trash talk, name-calling and personal attacks are unacceptable and must be immediately addressed by school or tournament administrators, but the language is vague when addressing discrimination.
Included in Wednesday's motion was that the NDHSAA would form a committee called the Sportsmanship and Citizenship Committee to deal with issues of discrimination during sporting events at member schools.
The NDHSAA’s decision stemmed from a Jan. 31 varsity basketball game between Bismarck and Jamestown high schools . During the game, someone in the crowd can be heard on video making monkey screeches while Bismarck High School sophomore Andre Austin, who is Black and Native American, prepared to shoot free throws.
Additionally, Andre told The Forum students in the Jamestown section called him the N-word. The parents of Bismarck player Teysean Eaglestaff, who is Native American, told The Forum the same students made Hollywood-like war cries every time he touched the basketball.
Andre's parents, Savannah Jade Alkire and Quinn Austin, and Teysean's parents, Kate and Lance Eaglestaff, submitted a letter of complaint to the NDHSAA on Feb. 2. There was no mention of their letter during the board meeting on Feb. 8.
Both families reported that nothing was done by administration about the verbal abuse during the Jan. 31 game.
Lance Eaglestaff said creating a new committee to handle future situations wasn’t a viable solution.
“It’s kind of a cop-out to create a separate board that has no power to deal with these situations,” he said. “They also have to implement rules and consequences. ... What are the consequences if it happens again? I think the administration in Jamestown really dropped the ball."
Repercussions could include the school losing postseason play time, administrators receiving a reprimand, students being banned from NDHSAA events or suspending players from sporting events for the rest of the school year, Lance Eaglestaff said.
“I believe that Jamestown needs to be held a lot more accountable for these actions, not only administration but the school board. How could they let this happen?” he said.
Ryman LeBeau, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said in a statement that the tribe “demands that appropriate policies addressing hate speech and racial bias are not only implemented, but enforced.”
LeBeau also demanded students, referees and administrators in Jamestown High School “are held accountable for their lack of action and failure to uphold policy.”
Jamestown High School administration was contacted by The Forum for more information, but they did not reply. In a press release issued Feb. 2, the district said appropriate disciplinary action had been taken but did not give details.
Since administrators at games are frequently busy and may not be able to hear everything going on, an official should have the right to stop a game to address discrimination, NDHSAA board member Ned Clooten said during the meeting.
“I saw the clips, and what happened was awful. No high school student should have to go through that," he said. "The young people who endured this that night, they needed someone to act. They just needed someone to say, ‘Hey I got this, I’ll take care of it. You go play hoops.'"
Clooten also said the new wording and future committee must have zero tolerance for discriminatory remarks, and games should be stopped until an administrator is able to handle the situation.
“I think it needs to have teeth behind it," he said. "We can’t enforce this without help; we will need help from coaches and officials. We need to send out a letter to coaches, administration and officials to give the resolution teeth."
NDHSAA Board Member Rick Diegel agreed, saying NDHSAA took good steps Wednesday but needed to go further.
“As a governing body, we need to lay out the expectations and what we feel needs to be done. I think we need to go farther and somehow stop this even in small schools,” he said.
Board member Guy Fridley said that when the Sportsmanship and Citizenship Committee is made, it needs to be “as diverse as possible. We can’t really wrap our heads around how they felt that night, because we’re not them. A diverse group is the best thing we can do with that committee."
The board meeting was attended via Zoom by at least two dozen people, including former legislator Ruth Buffalo, North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, and organizations like the North Dakota School Boards Association and North Dakota Native Vote, as well as other tribal chiefs and interested parties.
Buffalo said more needs to be done.
"It is unjust and a tragedy that our youth continue to bear the brunt of decades of ignorant and absurd racist behavior," she said. "Why isn't there a Native representative on the NDHSAA? We don't need to be on a subcommittee, we need a seat at the table. Maybe it's time to build our own Native American North Dakota High School Athletic Association."
Quinn Austin told The Forum he had not heard from any school officials.
Lance Eaglestaff said he hopes to have a meeting with the NDHSAA to bring about real change. Some of the changes would include having more diversity on the NDHSAA board of directors, he said.
“It’s not something we’re going to let slide. Yeah, they talked about it, but they didn’t really do anything about it,” he said.