MIDVALE — At the end of a seven-hour hearing, a dispute between two high schools seemed more intractable and contentious than before witnesses painstakingly recounted incidents alleging racist taunts, a death threat and an attempted assault.
On one side, Intermountain Christian School asked a panel of principals representing the Utah High School Activities Association to punish Tabiona High School for racist insults directed at their head boys basketball coach Tim Drisdom at a game in January.
On the other side, Tabiona asked the same panel not to punish players and coaches for the actions of fans, while saying Intermountain Christian should be punished because Drisdom threatened the life of a player and allowed a parent access to a locker room where he threatened to assault Tabiona’s head coach Lee Gines after a game in February.
The hearing was a complicated mix of he said, she said, with both sides agreeing on very little. They watched surveillance videos and dissected enlarged pictures of the crowds. Dozens of parents, students, principals, coaches and a police officer testified, each side conflicting over details large and small. While no one at Tabiona disputes that one fan did yell racial insults at Drisdom, they did take issue with it being a pervasive, community problem.
“I’m not here justifying that kind of comment,” said Blake Ostler, attorney for Tabiona. “It pains me to my core that something like that was said. But I’m asking you not to punish innocent people. … Be tough on the racism, but don’t be tough on the people who did nothing wrong.”
Intermountain Christian attorney Frank Mylar said the panel needed to punish the school because it was administrators who did nothing about racist taunts, even when Intermountain officials asked them to do so at a game in February.
“All racist language is offensive,” he said. “One remedy is you remove certain people or the game doesn’t count. … It’s garbage that you just throw up your hands and say, ‘We can’t do anything about it.’ If you don’t take that action, you’re guaranteed nothing is going to change.”
Mylar claimed there were at least two undisputed incidents of racial taunting, although only one of those was conceded by Tabiona officials.
The first incident occurred on Jan. 18, when Tabiona played at Intermountain. During that game a fan, an elderly relative of one of the Tabiona players, yelled racist slurs at basketball coach Tim Drisdom, who is African-American, according to reports from both schools on the incident.
The second incident to which he referred happened when Tabiona played Manila, and a number of students — players and cheerleaders — reported hearing racist insults directed at a Hispanic player. “They have crossed a line and they know it,” Mylar said. “We urge the panel to take a stand in this case.”
Ostler said he found it shocking that an allegation of racism that was said in a “private conversation” demanded so much attention, but that the allegation that Drisdom threatened a student after a game and that an Intermountain Christian parent nearly assaulted Gines didn’t warrant the same outrage.
Drisdom denied the allegation, although he said he did tell the student not to “disrespect” adults, as he said the player yelled at him from the bench repeatedly. An Intermountain Christian player testified that he heard the exchange, and said Drisdom didn’t threaten the player, but he did offer a different version of what was said.
The Tabiona student who said he was threatened gave a third version, and a teammate of his testified in support of his version of events. Association officials asked the media not to name any of the students involved in the hearing.
Mylar said the racist insults were not uttered in a “private conversation” as Intermountain Christian students in the crowd of a January game heard them and reported them to school officials.
Tabiona Principal Darin Jenkins said he thought Monday's unusual hearing was necessary to “clear the good name of Tabiona.”
“Tabiona is a great place,” he said. “We’re very passionate about our children and basketball, both our girls and our boys programs. I don’t feel like this is a community problem. I have never heard racist taunts from the fans. I still feel like there is some way to work this out, to find some remedy of some kind.”
Ostler added, “The entire community of Tabiona is hurting. These are good people.”
Drisdom said the situation has been shocking and painful to him, as well. There was testimony about insults aimed at him that he’d never heard before, and he was confused when Jenkins said he didn’t think the man who said the statements was racist.
“That’s hard for me,” he said. “I think that speaks to the problem that we’re dealing with.”32 comments on this story
Intermountain Christian head of schools Mitch Menning said that when the first reports of racist insults were discussed, school officials were unsure how to proceed. They filed a complaint because they felt it wasn't an isolated incident.
“We gathered a group of people, and said, ‘What do we do?’” he said. “'How do we react to this because it has the potential to get ugly?' And it did. But it has to be exposed. It’s difficult, but I still think something positive can come out of it.”
A decision about disciplinary action will be issued in writing in a week to 10 days, according to Utah High School Activities Association attorney Mark Van Wagoner.