Meadowdale teen claims race kept her off varsity basketball team

The 15-year-old sophomore alleges that, consciously or not, a new girls basketball head coach limited players of color.

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EDMONDS — A Meadowdale High School sophomore has filed a discrimination complaint against the girls basketball head coach alleging he prevented her from playing on the varsity team because of her race.

The complaint, dated Nov. 18, alleges Kevin Thompson “has instituted a series of actions” that limit chances for players of color while bolstering playing time for white players. The 15-year-old Hispanic student wrote she “no longer feels safe” around Thompson because he “singled me out,” yelled profanities at her and repeatedly removed her from practice.

Thompson is a first-year coach who started with Meadowdale this spring. He declined to comment for this article because “an active investigation (is) underway.”

A spokesperson with the Edmonds School District confirmed there is an ongoing investigation into discrimination claims submitted to the district on Nov. 18, but could not provide specifics due to privacy laws. A third-party investigator is working with the district’s human resources department, she said.

“We take these claims seriously and are working to quickly and thoroughly come to a resolution,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Daily Herald.

‘I don’t give two (expletive) about you’

Alan Tagle, the girl’s father, told The Herald his daughter is a good student who is “also very gifted athletically.” She played on Amateur Athletic Union club teams since the fourth grade and played on the Meadowdale junior varsity team last school year.

Tagle said last year the team was a “culturally diverse program” that generally reflected the student population at the school. About 43% of the students at Meadowdale are white, about 24% are Hispanic, about 13% are Asian and about 8% are Black, according to state enrollment data for the 2021-22 school year. But since Thompson was hired, Tagle’s daughter has seen the varsity makeup change.

“Essentially, now we have an all-white coaching staff and an all-white top team, with the exception of one kid,” Tagle said.

At least two parents have disputed the claims of an “all-white team,” according to reporting by MyEdmondNews. Those parents reportedly said three of the 10 girls on the varsity team this year are multiracial, while a fourth multiracial player alternates between JV and varsity.

One of the parents, Caleb Powell, told The Herald that “it just happens that this year the team looks a little bit more Caucasian than past teams,” but looks don’t directly correlate to race. He said some players are fair-skinned but have one Hispanic parent.

Powell, who directs the youth feeder program for the Meadowdale team, said placement at the high school level is not done on a superficial basis.

“Whether in the NBA or high school, the best players play,” he said.

This year Tagle’s daughter expected to play on the varsity team. Her father said she had played club ball with the varsity girls for almost five years, and she was at the varsity level for a school-sponsored summer team.

During tryouts about two weeks ago, the assistant coach told Tagle’s daughter that they wanted her to “swing,” or play with both the junior varsity and varsity teams. Most of her time would be spent leading the JV team.

When she tried to advocate with an assistant coach for more playing time on the varsity team, the head coach butted into the conversation and cursed at her, she said.

“He just cut me off mid-sentence and he just started, like, basically spitting in my face,” the daughter told The Daily Herald. “He was like, ‘I’m not going to make a spot for you on this team. I don’t want you on this team. I don’t give two (expletives) about you or your AAU.’”

She continued: “He said, ‘There could be freshmen next year that could outplay you, and that’s why I can’t put you on the team, because I don’t want to give you that spot and then not be able to take it away.”

Emails between Tagle and the district’s athletic director indicate Thompson admitted to using profanity in a conversation with Tagle’s daughter, but claimed his comments were only about AAU basketball, not the student.

School officials told the family in emails that Thompson “acknowledges he shouldn’t have used profanity” and “plans to write an apology.”

As of Wednesday at 1 p.m., Tagle and his daughter said they had not received that apology.

In the following weeks, school officials confirmed Tagle’s daughter “has a spot for the junior varsity team and can “swing” to play some varsity games.

They encouraged Tagle’s daughter to return to practices, so she can log enough hours to play in upcoming games. They noted that during the investigation, the coaching staff will make sure there are two coaches present for any discussions related to her playing time.

Tagle’s daughter has not attended practice since the incident, he said.

‘The only pattern I saw’

Tagle and his daughter did not try other avenues to resolve the problems with Thompson before filing the formal discrimination complaint.

Leon Dotter, a parent of one varsity player, said the family should have “gone through the chain of command” to address their concerns before lodging an official complaint. Dotter, an African American man, said other parents, coaches or even school officials could have helped.

“Everybody that knows her and everybody that knows her dad were shocked,” Dotter said of Tagle’s daughter. “Everybody knows the coaches were shocked.”

Rosters show the Meadowdale varsity team returned almost every player from last school year, so the makeup of the team is similar. The team does have four new faces.

Tagle said he and his daughter tried to understand why his daughter is not among the players named to the varsity squad. One of the new players who moved up from JV last year is currently out with an injury and couldn’t actually try out, Tagle’s daughter said. All of the new players are white, she added.

The explanation Tagle and his daughter “keep coming back” to is race.

“After analyzing his actions, the only pattern I saw was that he was separating the teams based on race, either consciously or without realizing it,” Tagle’s daughter wrote in an email to The Herald. “This is called ‘Implicit Biases’, it is when a privileged race discriminates against a protected class but doesn’t realize that they’re doing it.”

Powell, the feeder program director and father of two players on the varsity team, said the roster could be better understood with more context. Of the four new players, one is a freshman and one is a transfer student who had played varsity at her old school. Another was a senior who was injured last year.

The former JV player, who Tagle’s daughter said earned a spot without a tryout, finished on varsity during the 2021 season, Powell said.

“In essence there’s only two new faces,” he said.

Powell and Dotter both agreed with the coach’s evaluation of Tagle’s daughter. They both worked with her in fifth- and seventh-grade on the feeder team, and they watched her put in hard work to “develop a good shot.” But basketball talent is about more than just scoring points.

“She’s a very good shooter,” Dotter said. “But the fact is, can you shoot with somebody guarding you? Can you shoot off a screen? … And then if you take the shooting away, can you rebound? Can you play defense?”

As a swing player Tagle’s daughter would still be “one of the top 12 girls at Meadowdale this year,” Powell added.

“For a sophomore to even be offered a chance to swing, for most people that would be an honor,” Powell said.

Tagle’s daughter said some friends have asked her why she doesn’t return to play JV “and just be quiet,” she said.

“The answer is simple, my skill set does not warrant JV, that is clear as clear can get,” she wrote. “It would be like taking your skill set as a professional news reporter, and allowing someone to discriminate against you and accepting a lesser deserving role and just telling you to accept it. Racial injustice can sometimes be hard to understand for a person not of color. I ask that you see this through the eyes of someone of color in an all white program.”

She said school has become a “hostile environment” for her, where classmates ask why she quit basketball. Tagle said his daughter has also “been messaged disparagingly” by other players after an article about the complaint appeared in MyEdmondsNews.

He is considering transferring his daughter to a different school.

“The environment has become very hostile. My daughter is getting attacked by grown adult (sic) in the paper, kids at school, and the school is doing nothing about it,” he said.

By law, a school district must investigate claims of discrimination within 30 days of receiving them, unless the school and family resolve it together or the complaint has “exceptional circumstances” that require a lengthier investigation. The district expects to complete the investigation by Dec. 16.

If a student or family is unhappy with the outcome of the investigation, they may appeal to a third-party board or official for another review.

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.

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