How Crooked Oak is turning 'disgusting' comment by announcer into something beautiful
First, the boys’ district championship plaque went up.
Then, the girls’.
There were cheers and smiles and someone even hollered, “Speech!”
No one obliged with any formal remarks Monday morning, but really, none were needed. You could see the joy in the faces, the pride in the eyes.
“It definitely feels good,” guard Itzel Cedillos said, “bringing something back after every tournament we’ve played in.”
It has been more than two decades since the Crooked Oak girls and boys won district titles in the same season.
That is the headline at the small independent school district only a couple miles southeast of downtown Oklahoma City.
But near and far, the headlines about Crooked Oak are quite different.
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From the Washington Post: “An
announcer called names of girls basketball players ‘pretty disgusting.’”
From ABC News: “Oklahoma school district apologizes after announcer calls names of opposing girls’ high school team ‘disgusting.’”
Over the weekend, the world became aware of Crooked Oak after its girls were on the receiving end of something awful and demeaning.
On a video that has since gone viral, the public address announcer at Newkirk can be heard saying before he introduces the Crooked Oak starters, “Now, their names are pretty disgusting, but I’m going to try to call ‘em out.”
Talk to the girls on the team, and they admit they were shocked by those words. Jaws actually dropped on the bench. But the girls also say they weren’t surprised.
They have gotten used to hearing ugly words.
At Crooked Oak, more than 80% of the student body is Hispanic or black, and that percentage is even higher on the basketball teams.
The players say they know what it feels like to be whispered about, to be talked down to, to be watched.
They say it happens when they go to the store or to the movies — why would going to play a basketball game be any different?
And yet, shouldn’t it be? Those arenas and courts are supposed to be extensions of the classroom.
They’re supposed to be safe spaces.
But as the girls from Crooked Oak waited to start the biggest game of their season, they were degraded.
They were made to feel less than.
Watch the video, and your heart hurts.
And the Crooked Oak girls were hurt.
Make no mistake of that. For nearly an hour Monday morning, they met with Superintendent Brad Richards and Principal Laura Knight. They spoke openly about what happened. About their disappointment. About their anger. About their frustration.
But they also talked about the platform they have now.
“I’m glad this one time it got recorded,” Cedillos said. “I’m glad it got out there because now, people know that we’re one of many schools that go through stuff like this.
“We’re used to things like this happening to us, and that’s kind of sad that us as teenage girls have learned to just brush an issue like this off.”
They want to use this as a way to spark discussion, maybe even launch a series of cultural events at Crooked Oak. They want to help teach others.
But here’s the thing — they’ve already given us an amazing lesson.
“The girls all got together … ,” Crooked Oak coach Eric Walker said of what happened after that distasteful introduction, “and I could hear them talking about coming together as a team.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
Those girls went out and fought. It’s something they have been doing for years. Cedillos and fellow seniors, Haley Lloyd and Esmerelda Castaneda, were part of a varsity team that won only one game their freshman year.
Sophomore year, they won five.
Junior year, it was 10.
This year, their record is 13-8. They haven’t always won with great shooting or stellar defense or awesome ball movement. But they have won with a style befitting a bunch who won just one game three years ago.
“A word I’ve heard a lot,” Walker said, “is 'grit.'”
Look at the players, and you’ll see almost everyone wears knee pads.
The big, thick kind you usually see on a volleyball court. But the Crooked Oak girls wear them for basketball because they hustle. They scrap. They do whatever it takes to win.
That’s what they did Friday night.
“What I’m most proud of is the way they handled it,” Walker said. “It would be easy to turn to anger and forget about what their task at hand was. It would be easy to blow up and be angry at a bunch of people.
“But they’ve handled it with a high level of maturity.”
They are champions.
Make no mistake — these girls have designs on more plaques.
They will play Thursday night at Millwood in the first game of their Class 3A regional, and they hope to bring more hardware back to Crooked Oak.
“It’s something we want to keep going,” Cedillos said. “I feel like we all as a team have been through so much. I feel like we all know the potential we have and how big we can go.”
Who would count out Crooked Oak after the way they handled Friday night? After the strength these young people showed? After the perseverance they displayed?
No, it was beautiful.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.