A racially-tinged confrontation between De La Salle North Catholic High School students and supporters of Knappa High School near Astoria Thursday night has touched off a major effort at reconciliation between the two schools.
While details remain sketchy and no calls were made to the Clatsop County Sheriff, it appears that a Knappa booster who was not a parent made a racist comment to a group of De La Salle teens waiting for the varsity players to finish up in the locker room so the group could board the bus for home.
What happened after that is somewhat unclear, but an email sent to The Skanner News tipline at 11 p.m. Thursday night by a distraught mother whose sophomore daughter was caught up in the melee indicated a frightening scene.
"She was scared and did not want to get off the phone until their school bus left," the email read. "They were being called 'Niggers' and 'You Nigger go Home' the crowd blocked the front door so all the JV and Varsity Boys and Girls team had to be rushed into a cafeteria for safety as they waited for their bus to pull around the back so they could safely get on the bus."
The email continued: "My daughter said as they looked outside they saw people with bats and one holding a knife! Also a grown man pushed one of the little JV girl players...and no adult stopped him. Another player was pushed walking out and called a 'White B'...I cannot rest because my daughter is not home yet! She is so scared....This is not the 1st time this has occurred..."
Racism and High School Sports
The last time racist conflicts made headlines in Oregon youth sports involved a 5A division Jefferson High School boys' basketball game against North Eugene High School at the University of Oregon's Macarthur Court in March of 2007.
Parents and students from North Eugene and Churchill High Schools were found by Oregon Schools Activity Association officials to have shouted racist epithets after the game, and boosters of Roosevelt High School in Eugene were also found to have "acted inappropriately."
The sports organization responded by forcing the schools to change their behavior standards and crowd management policies. In addition a long-term mediation was held between Jefferson and North Eugene students.
Bitter basketball rivals in the 2A prep sports division, both the De La Salle and Knappa High School boys and girls teams have hopes to face off in their league championships later this month.
Last year the varsity boys teams squared off for an unforgettably hard-fought match to determine which team would advance to the championship playoff. That pivotal game saw the De La Salle Knights lose.
The Knappa Loggers went on to win the 2A state championship; their head coach Craig Cokley was named Coach of the Year. At the same time De La Salle won the league title based on their overall record, and the team's star player, Donta Harris, was named Player of the Year.
Initial reports indicate a potentially explosive situation was headed off by a Knappa High School technology teacher and the school principal, who successfully shepherded the De La Salle students through the school's cafeteria and out a back door where their bus had pulled around to collect them safely, a Knappa district official said.
Nevertheless De La Salle Athletic Director Dennis Carline says whatever went on in Knappa, he's pleased and impressed by the school's response and the efforts now underway to diffuse the students' rivalries.
"Knappa called us right away and talked to the principal and apologized," Carline told The Skanner News. "When you break it down you can see it was a lot of misunderstandings."
Knappa School District Interim Superintendent Jim Carlile, a former Jefferson High School principal, said a major part of the problem is that Knappa High School "has zero diversity."
He said the adult who touched off the incident with racist taunts has been banned from all further district events.
"He didn't particularly like that, but that's the breaks," Carlile said
He added that Knappa High's principal is this week speaking to each class in the school about racism and acceptable behavior.
"We've got a bunch of stuff in the works now in coordination with the folks at De La Salle, as well as our parent communities," he said. "One of the nice things about having such a small school – with just 140 students – is that it's possible for the principal to have one on one contact with every student, so we're doing that."