'Vile racist' taunts incite fight at Oklahoma high school basketball game
After racial abuse of African American student-athletes by the Newcastle High School student section sparked a brawl at a basketball game last week, the Oklahoma City Public School System is asking for official action to be taken against Newcastle.
The fight broke out Thursday night between John Marshall High School basketball players and Newcastle students after a Class 4A regional playoff game. Newcastle hosted the game on its home court southwest of Oklahoma City.
Newcastle students prompted the fight with “vile racist and derogatory taunting,” said Paula Lewis, chairperson of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education. Lewis said the fight that ensued was “deeply unfortunate,” but it was caused by racist insults going unchecked during and after the game.
“I say this clearly — our kids, our staff, our parents, and our supporters should never have to face being the subject of racial attacks and slurs at any school event,” Lewis said in a written statement Tuesday. “Our kids should not feel like they have to fight to defend themselves.”
John Marshall’s student body and basketball team are predominantly Black.
Newcastle Superintendent Melonie Hau issued an apology Tuesday and said racial slurs are “intolerable.” Officials from both schools met Monday night to share information from their respective investigations and to discuss how to move toward reconciliation.
However, Hau said referees at the game reported hearing no slurs until after play ended and players were leaving the court.
“On behalf of Newcastle Public Schools, I deeply apologize to the John Marshall Enterprise High School basketball team, fans and entire school community for the racist language used by one of our students, which started the fight following last week’s game,” Hau wrote. “No person should ever feel disrespected or dehumanized or experience the pain caused by racist language.”
The student who racially abused the visiting players has been disciplined, and the district is investigating which students moved down from the stands to join the fight once it began.
These students will not be allowed at future playoff games, according to a letter sent to Newcastle parents on Friday. All other students can continue attending games but will not be permitted to sit together in a student section for the rest of the season.
Oklahoma City Superintendent Sean McDaniel and Lewis sent a letter Monday to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, the governing body over high school sports, asking that Newcastle face consequences. McDaniel is a member of the OSSAA Board of Directors.
Oklahoma City school district officials concluded — based on interviews with players, coaches and Newcastle fans — that Newcastle students called the John Marshall team racial slurs throughout the game while Newcastle employees were within earshot, according to the letter to the OSSAA.
“Even though Newcastle employees were allegedly sitting in and near the student section during the game, not a single action was taken to cause the abusive treatment of our student-athletes to subside,” McDaniel and Lewis’ letter, which The Oklahoman obtained, states. “No Newcastle student was removed. No Newcastle student was warned. No Newcastle student was reprimanded in any way during the game.”
OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson declined to comment Tuesday.
The players were exiting the court to their locker room after the game when they reportedly heard more racial abuse from the nearby Newcastle student section, according to McDaniel and Lewis' letter. Two players entered the crowd to throw punches.
A video of the fight posted on social media shows John Marshall players being forcibly separated from a mostly white group of Newcastle students.
Several adults and students from both schools were injured. Three people sought medical treatment and have returned home, according to a statement from Newcastle.
Two John Marshall students who threw punches have been disciplined. McDaniel and Lewis apologized for the students’ behavior, saying they don’t condone “settling issues with our fists.”
However, their letter suggests the incident could have been worse had John Marshall’s team, coaching staff and fans had not shown restraint while being targeted with racial abuse throughout the evening.
Hau said a “significant amount” of misinformation has circulated on social media, maintaining that racial taunts did not occur during the game.
“However, the use of racist language even once — or in any form — is unacceptable,” she said.
Hau pledged that Newcastle will “actively fight racism and educate others in our community to do the same.”
McDaniel and Lewis also complained Newcastle violated OSSAA rules that regulate where student sections are allowed to be located. Hau said her district followed OSSAA protocols and provided proper supervision at the game.
“Oklahoma coaches, parents, teachers, adults failed these kids,” Lewis said. “I will not ask them to be accountable to a system that isn't accountable to itself. We must do better — and I intend to see that we do.”
Staff writer Cameron Jourdan contributed to this report.