Report: Racial comments targeted Mariner basketball players

Investigators found Lakewood fans’ behavior created a “racially charged” situation during tense May contest.

LAKEWOOD — An independent investigator has found that players on the Mariner High School varsity girls basketball team were the target of racially offensive comments before and after a contest at Lakewood High School in May.

The investigator found those comments, coupled with “multiple other non-racial but offensive comments” by Lakewood spectators created a “racially charged” environment when the Marauders and Cougars met May 20, Lakewood school Superintendent Scott Peacock wrote in a letter sent Sunday to students, parents and staff.

Peacock will discuss the report’s findings at a community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Lakewood High School Commons.

“The content of this report raises serious concerns,” Peacock wrote. “Multiple dynamics interacted to create a negative experience at the game. At this time, administration from both districts are reviewing the report in detail and identifying next steps that address the findings and the conditions that generated safety concerns.”

Mariner High, near Everett, is part of the Mukilteo School District, which sent a letter of its own Sunday night.

“The investigation affirmed instances of poor sportsmanship by multiple participants, overall insufficient game management and racially offensive comments directed at Mariner players,” reads the letter.

Mariner athletic director Kyle Axelson, who signed the letter, also hosted an optional, player-only meeting for the girls basketball team Monday afternoon to discuss findings of the investigation and answer any questions the players had.

Axelson said no players attended the meeting.

“We had kids graduate already so a lot of the kids that were involved in that night aren’t students here anymore,” Axelson said. “… It’s an unfortunate incident, and I think kids are already looking forward to summer and things like that.”

The Lakewood School District received a complaint from a Mariner High School girls basketball player about racist remarks from the Lakewood crowd during the May 20 game. The Lakewood and Mukilteo districts hired an outside firm to look into the allegations.

Simmons Sweeney Smith, a Bellingham-based law firm, investigated the claims. Its staff reviewed footage from the game and interviewed coaches and players from each team, as well as the game’s referees. They also reviewed audio and video captured on spectators’ phones.

The firm submitted a roughly 25-page report to the districts on June 9. Once personal identifying information of students is redacted, the report will be publicly available, Peacock said.

Investigators determined two racially offensive comments were made, but they did not identify who made them, Peacock said

First, during the game, a fan in the student section referred to a Mariner player as “nappy haired.” After the game, an adult in the parent section referred to the Mariner players as “thugs.”

“We are currently in the process of finding out who made those comments, but the fact that people were wearing masks has made it difficult,” Peacock said.

Investigators said they could not corroborate allegations of other racial epithets, according to Peacock. It was alleged some fans used the “N” word and called Mariner players African, he said.

Peacock attended the game. He said he was on the other side of the gymnasium and “did not hear the specific” racial comments noted in the report.

But, he said, “offensive comments” started during warm-ups and there was a “very negative” tone on the part of the crowd, inciting concerns about the sportsmanship of the Lakewood fans.

Lakewood’s athletic director tried several times to quell negative cheering and heckling by students but was not completely successful, according to report findings cited by Peacock in his community letter.

Meanwhile, on the court, a physical game ensued. Investigators noted the referees did not exercise sufficient control and allowed it get out of control.

“The game had a very aggressive flow to it. A number of Lakewood players were injured during the game which the report noted,” Peacock said. “The referees did not interject themselves enough to manage that aggressiveness.”

Mariner girls basketball coach Reggie Davis removed his team from the court with about four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Lakewood led 38-35 at the time.

The teams were scheduled to play again the following week, but that game was canceled.

Going forward, both school districts are responding in a variety of ways.

In Lakewood, Peacock said, the district already stepped up monitoring of spectators at athletic events “to make sure behavior is appropriate.”

A “captain’s council” comprised of representatives of student sports teams will be formed to work with administrators on developing a spectator’s code of conduct, he said. Other steps will be outlined at the Tuesday community meeting.

Specifics on corrective action in regard to sportsmanship have yet to be finalized by the Mukilteo School District. They will include “additional training/teaching around sportsmanship,” district spokeswoman Diane Bradford said in an email.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; @dospueblos

Reporter Zac Hereth: zhereth@heraldnet.com; @zachereth

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