PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Gladstone School District and Molalla River School District say they’re investigating a report of a student who allegedly wore blackface to a basketball game between the two schools Friday night.
Fynn Brechbiel is a sophomore on the Gladstone boys junior varsity basketball team and said he started noticing some concerning things when the team first arrived at Molalla High School Friday. He said the woman escorting the team to the locker room kept holding her phone up over her shoulder, pointing it toward the team. He said the phone displayed an image of an American flag attached to a Confederate flag.
“I told my friend, who’s also African American… ‘It’s probably going to be a long night. So like, just like, be aware. So just keep your composure. It’s going to be a long night,’” he said.
And it was a long night. Brechbiel said that was the first red flag.
He said he played in the junior varsity basketball game and everything was fine, but at halftime of the varsity boys’ game, he noticed his friends were growing concerned about something. When he turned around, he saw a student from Molalla High School with his upper body covered in black paint.
To Brechbiel, it looked like the student was wearing blackface and was taunting him and the other Black players on the Gladstone team.
Brechbiel said he asked the student what he was doing and why he had paint on him and the student said, “I don’t know” and started laughing.
“I was asking them about it and they kind of thought I was joking. So they didn’t really take it that serious,” Brechbiel said
Brechbiel said he didn’t want to start a fight, but he did take a picture of the student’s body paint, which he said seemed racist.
Erica Hammick’s son Jazeon Hammick was also playing for Gladstone Friday night and said the black face paint wasn’t the only racist thing the students did that night. Jazeon is a Black student and Erica said he told her some of the Molalla fans made monkey noises every time he had the ball and would taunt him when he tripped.
Erica said she couldn’t attend Friday’s game, but that her son said she needs to attend games in rural areas in the future because he doesn’t feel safe.
“He was very humiliated and I totally understand why he would feel like that because this is not stopping and it’s really sad that these kids have to go through stuff like that,” Erica said.
She said she told her son this weekend that if he doesn’t feel safe playing on Gladstone’s basketball team, he can quit. She said she also spoke to the principal of Gladstone High School about the incident.
“I was, like, this has to stop. It has to stop because I have other kids growing up in the district soon, and so, are they going to get the same treatment? As a mother, do you want to continue to put your kids through this type of stuff?” she said.
Both Erica and Lisa Brechbiel, Fynn’s mother, said this isn’t the first time Gladstone student athletes faced racism this school year. Lisa said there were instances with the football team and that there are some schools where the Black students won’t go to the restroom alone because they don’t feel safe.
Lisa said she spoke to the principal at Molalla High School Monday and had a thorough conversation with him about what happened. She believes the school will address the problem.
She said the principal told her the student put on the black makeup in the stands and did not walk into the basketball stadium with his face covered in black paint. The principal told her Fynn did the right thing by taking a picture.
Lisa said it doesn’t matter if the student intended for the paint to be racist or not. She said the school still needs to address the incident and explain to students why blackface is offensive and racist.
Both Erica and Lisa said they’d like to also see parents of Molalla students having conversations with their students and teaching them to not be racist toward others.
The Oregon School Activities Association said it has seen an increase in the number of complaint forms submitted to its office in the 2021-2022 school year compared to the 2020-2021 school year when seasons were shortened.
OSAA has violations and penalties written in its handbook about sportsmanship issues. It said students could face penalties for their actions such as probation, required plans of action, and appearances before the OSAA Board of Directors.
OSAA said it is investigating the incident at Molalla High School.
Tony Mann, superintendent of the Molalla River School District, said the district is aware of the situation and is working collaboratively with Gladstone School District administrators and OSAA on an investigation. Mann said the district takes allegations of this nature very seriously.
Natalie Weninger, executive assistant to the superintendent, board and HR at Gladstone School District, also confirmed they are investigating.