Camas, WA — As the Camas School District (CSD) cooperates with an ESD 112 investigation into allegations of racist taunting at a high school girls basketball game on December 10, eyewitnesses are speaking out.
The investigation follows a complaint by Eric Knox, girls basketball head coach at Benson High in Portland, which was made through his non-profit organization, Holla Mentors. In his letter, Knox said his team, which is predominantly Black, was subjected to multiple taunts and racist slurs from the Camas student section in the bleachers at The Warehouse (Camas High gym).
The following Monday, Knox, without the knowledge of Benson High School or Portland Public Schools, filed a complaint with the Camas School Board, CSD administration, and other members of the Camas High School (CHS) leadership team. Interim superintendent Doug Hood said CSD took swift action, and a formal investigation was launched with ESD 112.
“That same day, we launched an investigation led by a neutral third party and consulted with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA),” Hood said in an email sent to Camas parents on Monday.
Hood said interviews have been conducted with fans, students, athletes, and staff members present at the game, including CHS Athletic Director, Rory Oster, who was present at both the JV and Varsity games that night.
“An active and thorough investigation is happening through ESD 112,” Oster said.
Portland Public Schools confirms Benson staff is part of the probe. The complaint hit social media last week as screenshots of the Holla letter Knox authored went viral.
In his letter, Knox said the racial taunting started during the JV game. The alleged slurs continued into the Varsity game. Knox said his Varsity players, who were sitting close to the Camas student section, reported hearing students using offensive language, including the “N-word.”
“I took their words in and encouraged them to ignore them, and allow our play to be the response to their racism,” Knox said. “I assured them that I had their back and that unfortunately racism is a fact and a reality for us, and they will have to navigate this the rest of their lives.”
What we do know from video footage is that as a Benson player drives to the basket Camas is called for a foul. Junior Onna Brown, a Benson High athlete, then looks toward the Camas student section, and walks over to her coaches.
As play resumes, a Benson assistant walks along the baseline while Knox calls timeout, then walks toward the student section. A referee intervenes, and Knox walks back to the bench. Knox is clearly agitated.
The Benson assistant coach speaks to Oster, who was standing near a door, about 20 feet from the student section. Oster then addresses the students.
“Throughout the game, both during play and timeouts, a number of my players told me one-on-one that they were hearing individuals from the student section using the N-word to taunt our players,” Knox wrote in his Holla letter. “Additionally, Benson parents came to me and said that they heard people in the Camas student section using very derogatory language about our players and felt it created a very hostile environment. By the second half, I had heard the same thing from enough players that I finally had to take action.”
After reviewing footage of the game, it’s unclear whether any student or adult spectator said anything racially offensive. After interviewing 20 eyewitnesses who attended the games, Lacamas Magazine has not uncovered any evidence of racially offensive language being said at either game. During the majority of the JV game, the Camas varsity players comprised the majority of the student section.
“I was sitting in the bleachers next to the student section for the first half of the JV game,” said WIAA referee, Errol Parker. “I officiated the second half of the JV game and the full varsity game and I heard no racial comments or anything like that.”
Parker said referee protocol is to address issues like this immediately with the game administrator, who would be Oster.
“It doesn’t fall upon us to eject fans from the game, that would be the game administrator,” said Parker. “If we heard something like that we would notify the game administrator and they would take care of it.”
Parker also said his fellow referees, Jordan Anderson, and Travis Garrison, also did not hear any racial taunting during either game. In addition, multiple CHS athletic staff stood close to the student section during both games. No one heard any racial taunting. He also said during all his years of refereeing Camas games he’s never heard a racial slur or taunt.
“I’ve never had nor heard of any racial issues whatsoever in any school sanctioned events I have been involved with, especially in Camas,” Parker said.
Camas parents are also speaking out.
“I was at the game, my daughters are on CHS varsity, they were standing shoulder to shoulder with the Benson athletes, they sat in the student section for the JV game,” said Tad Mairs, a Camas parent. “I just looked at JV game film on NFHS … the varsity was the main body of the JV student section. My wife was was sitting in close proximity to the varsity game student section, I was on balcony at times above the student section. My family does not tolerate hate. The N-word would resonate very deeply hearing it. At no point did any of my family hear any slurs. Just saying what we witnessed first hand. … sadly yes I am sure it still happens, if it did we would not ignore it.”
Several parents, who wish to remain anonymous said: “We sat right next to the student section the whole night and not once heard any racially offensive language. It wouldn’t be tolerated.”
Another parent said: “Yes, kids say dumb things at sporting events, like ‘you run funny,’ or ‘airball’ but nothing racially offensive was said.”
One Camas student, who wishes to remain anonymous, sat in the student section the entire time said this: “Ya, I was there, but I didn’t hear any racial slurs going around, there of course are normal taunts going around that you would expect at a basketball game, though.”
Another Camas student, who also wishes to remain anonymous, said: “Yeah, I was at the game for the whole time, and the majority of the time I was in the student section during the game. I didn’t hear any racist things being said, and just heard normal kinda chatter during a high school game.”
After the game, one parent spoke directly with Knox who told him “it was a good game, Camas has a legendary program. Camas never disappoints.”
Lacamas Magazine did send questions directly to Knox via email, but those emails have not been answered. In his letter, Knox said the Camas players were “great” and didn’t participate in any objectionable behavior. Benson beat the Papermakers 60-52.
The ESD 112 investigation has not been completed.
In his letter, Hood said the following:
“Racist slurs and remarks have no place in our schools or anywhere and will not be tolerated. We take these accusations very seriously and are committed to aiding a complete and thorough investigation. In our schools, in our hallways, and in our community, it is a shared responsibility to call out injustice and racism. In Camas School District, we will continue to be unrelenting in our commitment to providing safe, welcoming environments for our students, staff, community, and guests.”
Lacamas Magazine will continue to follow this story.