The La Grande and Gladstone school districts, along with the Oregon School Activities Association, issued a joint statement Tuesday in response to public outcry regarding alleged racist slurs used repeatedly during a first round 4A state playoff football game between the high schools Nov. 5 at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.

“The La Grande School District, Gladstone School District, and Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) are in close coordination regarding allegations of racial slurs during a recent 4A playoff football game on November 5, 2021,” the statement began. “While the investigation of what occurred continues, we are issuing a joint statement to express an intent towards solidarity and reciprocity in resolving a difficult situation in order to build trust and strength in the relationship between our districts.”

The Oregonian/OregonLive first reported that Gladstone players, coaches and supporters allege that during the game, which La Grande won 34-12, La Grande players repeatedly used racist slurs directed at Gladstone players who are Black. Gladstone backers say no disciplinary action was taken against the alleged offenders, despite the comments reportedly heard by Gladstone player parents.

Additionally, it’s alleged that when Gladstone coaches took the field to argue the lack of discipline handed out by the officiating crew, a referee was heard to yell, “get that Black guy off the field,” referring to a member of the Gladstone coaching staff.

“The refs were not stopping it,” Heather White, a Gladstone parent told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “They were told multiple times, and I’m sure they heard it. One of the refs singled (an assistant coach) out and didn’t just refer to him as ‘coach,’ but instead as, ‘that Black guy.’ We could hear it from the sideline.”

In the joint statement, the school districts note that along with the OSAA, they’re following applicable policies in gathering facts and will tackle appropriate actions if necessary. The OSAA says it’s working with an independent investigator and will take action upon completion of the investigation.

The districts outlined eight additional steps being taken beyond required protocols, noting both districts, “have been reviewing game film” and interviewing athletes and coaches from both schools; that La Grande High School and the OSAA have communicated with game officials to receive official statements and La Grande will provide “Implicit Bias professional development” for all the school’s athletes and coaches. Additionally, the joint statement indicates that plans are being made to have, “captain-to-captain, athletic director-to-athletic director, and coach-to-coach conversations to ensure collegiality between our teams.”

The statement, signed by La Grande Superintendent George Mendoza, Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart, and OSAA Executive Director Pete Weber, concludes with the following:

“The message we’re sharing with our students and school communities is that words and actions matter, and that racial discrimination will not be tolerated at OSAA interscholastic activities,” the joint statement reads. “It’s worth taking some time to examine and improve how we treat each other, how we compete, and how we honor one another. That’s the power of athletics — to bring communities together, to educate students on how to interact while competing, and to turn challenges into opportunities for growth in our person-to-person and district-to-district relationships.”

To read the complete joint statement, go to https://tinyurl.com/yxy6a5mb.

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