Oak Ridge student fan approaches McClatchy player during playoff game
Racial taunts and body-shaming insults directed at McClatchy High School girls basketball players during a recent playoff game at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills continue to anger parents from the Sacramento school.
McClatchy parent Glen Kumamoto said the derogatory comments by student spectators against Asian American players on the visiting McClatchy team were worse than anything he has heard at his daughter’s games.
“We have played in gyms all across Sacramento and the Bay Area,” said Kumamoto, 47. “We have never, ever been subjected to anything like that. We have never been more disrespected than we were in that gym.”
He said the taunts came from the Oak Ridge student section during the Feb. 25 game in which Oak Ridge defeated McClatchy, the defending CIF State Division I champion, 40-33 in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
The taunts included chants of “soy sauce,” “go back to Fiji” and references to “small eyes,” Kumamoto said. In addition, students delivered insults that were not racial, but still hurtful.
“We have one player with a heavier build, and every time she came in they would yell, ‘Outback Steakhouse,’ ” he said. “They would yell, ‘You’re ugly.’ ”
Others heard the McClatchy cheer crew being insulted with comments about their weight, according to Kumamoto.
Aaron Palm, Oak Ridge High’s interim principal, said Wednesday that school and district officials were aware of inappropriate behavior, although he said the racial comments are believed to have come from only one person, whom school officials have not been able to identify.
The El Dorado Union High School District issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging the incident.
“Oak Ridge High School has been working from the inception of the situation with McClatchy administration and their respective athletic department,” the statement read. “We are disappointed and saddened by the situation and are working to address the inappropriate behavior.”
Kumamoto disputed Palm’s assertion that racial comments came from only one person. He attended the game and heard the slurs from many people, he said.
Palm said officials viewed a video taken from the other side of the gymnasium and the comments were somewhat garbled.
Palm has been thrust into the basketball controversy only a week into his leadership tenure. El Dorado Union trustees named Palm interim principal last week after they ousted Principal Paul Burke, who had been on administrative leave since November.
Though not nearly as diverse as McClatchy High School, Oak Ridge’s student body has grown more so in the past two decades, according to state data. In 1994-95, only 6 percent of students at the El Dorado Hills high school were minorities. By 2014-15, that number was up to nearly 29 percent, including 8 percent who were Asian American.
On Thursday, Palm issued a lengthy email to Oak Ridge community members stating that the school does not support intolerance or racism on campus and outlining steps taken in response to the basketball game.
In that email, Palm acknowledged “a portion of our student body was chanting the terms ‘ugly’ and ‘cankles’ to the opposing players.” He said staff members responded during the game as they became aware of the chants and Oak Ridge officials apologized to McClatchy administrators for the behavior.
He also said a student who stood over a fallen McClatchy player was ejected from the game immediately and disciplined the next day. Kumamoto provided footage of an incident in which a student appears to grab a McClatchy player who falls near the baseline behind the basket.
Palm said the school has opened a new investigation in response to allegations Kumamoto made this week. The principal also mentioned that law enforcement is examining a traffic incident between a McClatchy student and El Dorado Union district student.
Jessica Kunisaki, the McClatchy girls basketball coach, said team members were focused on the game and did not react to the comments. Kunisaki said she did not hear racial slurs but did hear someone yelling, “You’re all ugly.” Kunisaki said she has not witnessed such behavior by fans at other host schools.
Kunisaki and Kumamoto stressed that the Oak Ridge basketball players were not at fault. The players represented their school well, and the Oak Ridge coach apologized for the behavior of students in the stands, Kunisaki said.
“The Oak Ridge basketball program is very respectable,” she said, describing the team as “top-notch.”
Kunisaki said she also was proud of how her players handled the incident.
Mike Garrison, commissioner of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, had telephone conversations with administrators at both schools the day after the game, said Will DeBoard, the section’s communications director. Because the offensive remarks were made by fans, not team members, DeBoard said it was considered more a school than a CIF issue. CIF received few direct complaints about the incident, but DeBoard said he saw plenty of comments on social media.
Although the CIF has standards of behavior for players and fans, “there’s not much we could do to discipline kids in the bleachers for screaming something untoward,” DeBoard said.
He said it appears Oak Ridge High administrators are handling the situation. If a school failed to act in such a situation, DeBoard said, the the CIF might step in.
Leaders of the Oak Ridge student cheering section, the Ozone, sent an apology letter Thursday to McClatchy players and fans, according to an email Kumamoto provided.
“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 February 25th playoff game,” the note began. “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.”
Palm said Oak Ridge’s student leaders want to meet with McClatchy student leaders.
Kumamoto said he contacted administrators at Oak Ridge but initially got no response in the days after the game. He said that prompted his Facebook post, in which he vented to friends about Oak Ridge fan behavior, a post that quickly garnered a lot of attention locally and a call from the school.
“Racial intolerance should not be accepted on any level,” he said.
The Bee’s Joe Davidson contributed to this report.