Rafu Staff Report
SACRAMENTO – An incident at a high school basketball playoff game in Sacramento continues to reverberate in the community, long after the final buzzer.
The Feb. 25 contest between the girls of McClatchy High School and host Oak Ridge High in El Dorado Hills had plenty of drama before tip-off. McClatchy, coached by former Chapman University star and McClatchy graduate Jessica Kunisaki, knocked Oak Ridge out of last year’s playoffs en route to capturing the school’s first-ever state championship.
The desire for revenge apparently got out of hand, as several parents reported racial slurs and other inappropriate taunts coming from the Oak Ridge student cheering section and directed at McClatchy players.
Glen Kumamoto, whose daughter, Cori, is a member of the McClatchy Lady Lions, said he heard several derogatory comments hurled at the team. At least six players on McClatchy’s roster are of Asian descent.
Kumamoto contacted the school about the taunts, including chants of “soy sauce” and “go back to Fiji,” and said he witnessed gestures imitating “small eyes.”
In the days following the game – won 40-33 by Oak Ridge – Kumamoto said he brought the matter to the attention of Oak Ridge school officials, but received no response.
He then took the issue to social media and news outlets, including The Rafu Shimpo.
In a March 8 Facebook post, Kumamoto wrote: “Keep in mind that half of our team is of Asian descent. They would yell ‘soy sauce,’ ‘little eyes,’ ‘you’re ugly’ just to name a few. They even made direct ‘cheers’ to specific players on our team and called them out by name.
“If these racial taunts were made against African Americans, there would be outrage. But because they were made against Asians, nobody on the Oak Ridge staff seemed to think there was a problem. I am still furious, even a few weeks later, and I would love to escalate this to various news stations around the area but I’m not sure how to even start. Letters have been sent to the school administration to no avail.”
One day later, Kumamoto spoke with the local CBS television affiliate in Sacramento, and the story garnered wide attention.
“We’ve never been subjected to such a disgraceful, disgraceful language,” Kumamoto told CBS13 News, mentioning his family’s history of service.
“My father fought in the Second World War for this country while his family was interned in a camp, so things like this wouldn’t happen,” he said. “So his children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to be subjected to racial taunts.”
He added that body-shaming comments, such as “cankles,” were directed at several McClatchy players and cheerleaders.
Kunisaki said that her players were focused squarely on the game and were unaware of the taunts, thought she later told CBS13, “In 2016, you don’t have racism, you would hope, but you hear it all the time and I think the more awareness, the better we can solve problems.”
Some Oak Ridge students have said the “Fiji” comment was misheard, and was in fact a chant referring to one of McClatchy’s star players, Gigi Garcia, who was injured and on the bench, unable to play.
In the same Facebook post, Kumamoto included a video that makes it difficult to discern the offensive comments, but clearly shows one Oak Ridge student coming out of the cheering section to interfere with a McClatchy player who had fallen out of bounds. The student waves a hand in front of the player’s face, possibly making contact with her.
Oak Ridge later reported that the student was immediately removed from the gymnasium and was disciplined.
Another parent also contacted the school following the game, objecting not only to the inappropriate comments, but also to posters at the school calling for a “Black Out” theme for the game by the student section, known as the “O Zone.”
“I cannot believe in 2016, not one single administrator, teacher, advisor or adult in the faculty at your school did not realize the impact those words have on the African American race,” wrote the parent, adding, “As I walked past the O Zone during half time, several boys in the crowd told the [McClatchy] cheerleaders they were ugly to their faces as they walked by.”
Oak Ridge athletic director Stephen White apologized for the incident, insisting, “This is in no way how Oak Ridge wishes to be represented.”
White added that the term “Black Out” was in no way meant to imply malice toward any race, and that “For our sporting events, our student section has participated in a pink out, yellow out, blue out, white, and camo out, which all refer to T-shirt color that students will wear as a unified student section for the respective game.”
On March 10, Oak Ridge interim principal Aaron Palm responded to the parent of the fallen McClatchy player, issuing a letter to the Oak Ridge community.
“Oak Ridge High School wants to emphasize that we do not support intolerance or racism on our campus. We do not and have not ever stood for this,” Palm’s letter began. He acknowledged some of the reported insults coming from the student section, saying that his school does not tolerate “chants that are inappropriate or are directed towards an individual.”
Palm also wrote that the school had received a copy of Kumamoto’s video, and was aware of the media attention it had garnered.
Though he said at the time that no individual students had been identified as sources of the taunts, the earlier parental letter of complaint identified more than a dozen students who acknowledged some of the behavior of the O Zone.
One student was quoted as saying, “McClatchy sounds like something I would name my dog.”
In her letter to Palm, the parent also cited complaints about the O Zone from other schools and parents, adding, “I think it’s time you dismantle the cheer section. Nothing good comes from hateful words, it’s not a cheer section when its at this level.”
Members of the O Zone drafted an apology of their own, reading in part:
“On behalf of the Oak Ridge student section, the Ozone, we would like to make an apology for any inappropriate chants that were made during the Feb. 25 playoff game. Additionally, we would like to apologize for any derogatory comments that came from various students seated within the student section. These actions of a few are disappointing and not a true reflection of our student body.
“As Ozone student leaders, we care about having good sportsmanship and in showing support to all athletes in our schools. We will continue to work to better educate our peers in their participation and positive support while members of the student section.”
The El Dorado Union High School District issued a statement that said it is working to address the situation.
“It is our expectation that respect be given to all during our athletic events and apologize that this was not the case on this particular evening. The actions of those who participated in this unacceptable behavior are not a true reflection of our student body,” the statement read, in part.
Kumamoto said he has been contacted by other schools who were also victims of racial taunts while playing at Oak Ridge, and that a strict zero-tolerance of such offensive behavior is the appropriate response for the school to take.
“Asians are often overlooked or thought of being passive, so maybe they feel okay with [others] saying these things. Obviously the administration didn’t do anything to stop it. I hope it brings to light that racial slurs are not acceptable on any level and body-shaming young kids has no place in our schools and especially sporting events.”