MIDVALE — The Utah High School Activities Association sent a very clear message Friday to those involved in high school sports:
Do something about unsportsmanlike behavior of fans and parents — especially if it involves racist taunts — or the school will pay a heavy price.
A panel of five principals voted to fine Tabiona High School in the Duchesne School District $6,000, which represents the maximum fine of $1,500 per violation for four violations.
Those violations were:
• Lack of institutional control for failure to supervise fan Leon Casper following “his racial outburst” at an Intermountain Christian School game in Holladay in January.
• Lack of institutional control in the failure to remove Casper from the Tabiona gym at a February game.
• Lack of institutional control in the failure and violation of sportsmanship rules by permitting Casper to sit directly across from Intermountain head coach Tim Drisdom, who is African-American.
• And the lack of institutional control in failure to supervise and remove “rabid fans who were taunting” a student athlete.
The unanimous decision comes after a nearly seven-hour hearing on May 20, in which Intermountain Christian School accused Tabiona High of failing to deal with racist taunts from fans, especially one particular fan, and Tabiona asserted counterclaims, including alleging that Drisdom threatened the life of a student athlete after a February game and an Intermountain parent threatened physical violence against Tabiona head coach Lee Gines in the hallway after the same game.
Intermountain Christian School was fined $1,000 for lack of institutional control because a parent was allowed access to a hallway near both schools' locker rooms and had to be physically restrained from assaulting Gines. Tabiona principal Darin Jenkins and both coaches were hit with $250 fines for their roles.
The fine against Tabiona is among the heftiest levied against any school, although it is not the largest ever imposed, according to the association's attorney, Mark Van Wagoner.
"I'm not sure the panel is in the business of sending messages," Van Wagoner said. "The panel heard the evidence and made the determination of violations and imposed what it considered to be appropriate penalties. It may be that people can take, and probably other schools should take from this, the association and other (hearing) panels are likely to punish this sort of fan behavior — and inattention to it — harshly."
Van Wagoner said this is an issue of critical importance to the Utah High School Activities Association and its members.
"Fans are sitting five feet from student athletes," he said. "They are abusing children in a setting in which those children are required to perform a difficult task. And they're being heckled. No one does that to the band. … No one screams in biology. It's just silly to think fans should be able to do that on school property and do those kinds of things to student athletes."
Regarding the racism, Van Wagoner said the panel was "deeply offended and very concerned that it happened and was not resolved immediately."
In the end, the panel of five association board of trustee members imposed punishment on the administrations, fans and coaches of both schools, but their harshest criticism was reserved for Tabiona High.
The panel cited the “responsibility of principals” in its decision, and it was the principals of both schools whom they held responsible for their respective failures.
“Whatever Principal (Darin) Jenkins did in good faith to avoid trouble was not enough,” the decision said. “Although Tabiona was well aware of Mr. Casper’s behavior, he roamed the gym unchecked. He clapped and yelled until he caught coach Drisdom’s attention in the JV game and called him an (expletive). ICS complained to Tabiona, but nothing happened.
"Considering Mr. Casper’s history with ICS, he should have been removed from the building at that point. He was not. Worse yet, he was given a seat 'front and center' across the gym from coach Drisdom. The only reasonable inference coach Drisdom could take from that prominent placement … was that Tabiona was complicit in his behavior,” the decision states.
The panel felt the failure of Tabiona’s administration to adequately deal with Casper led to the escalation of an already emotionally charged situation.
“In this panel’s opinion, it was extraordinarily unsportsmanlike to place a man who called coach Drisdom “blackie” and (expletive) directly in front of him in his coaching position and refuse to remove him,” according to the decision.
"It is also reasonably foreseeable that in those circumstances, the players and coach may have acted out of anger and may not have played to their best ability because of this remarkable and preventable distraction. It is not lost on this panel that the winning of this game had broad consequences.”
The panel listed many remedies that Tabiona and Jenkins could have employed to show Intermountain Christian School that they took the situation seriously and understood how upsetting the fan’s actions had been.
“Mr. Casper’s willingness to shout racist slurs created a clear and present danger to the students attending the basketball game,” the decision said. “Historically, racial slurs and the prejudice that accompanies them have led to violence.”
Contacted Friday, Casper said he didn't say all of the things being attributed to him, but he did write a letter of apology for what he did say. That letter was given to Intermountain and Drisdom at the mediation before the hearing.
"Tim was supposed to meet with me, but he never would," Casper said. "He said, 'I'd like to meet that gentleman and talk to him face to face.' So I sent him a letter of apology and asked to meet with him, but he never would."
Casper said he'd still like to meet with Drisdom to talk through what happened, especially because he said he didn't say most of the things in the report. He also said testimony from a police officer that he referred to Drisdom using a swear word and a racial epithet was "a big lie."
The decision to punish Tabiona as a school community wasn't just about the behavior of a single fan, according to the decision. The panel found that a group of adult fans who taunted and swore at an Intermountain player should have been dealt with as well.
“When Tabiona failed to quell these fans or impose even limited order on them, it permitted unfair and unsportsmanlike behavior that could reasonably have altered the outcome of a game,” the panel said. “It would have been a simple thing to walk to the sidelines and first warn the fans and then, if the taunting did not stop, to remove them. It was wrong not to do so.”
The panel pointed out that while crowd control is not Gines' responsibility, they recommended he do what he can in those situations in the future. He was reprimanded and fined $250 for a confrontation in the hallway near his locker room in which he had to be restrained when an Intermountain parent ran at him, threatening him.
The panel directed Tabiona High to engage with their community to “discuss and remedy the evils of racism.” They will also require a “minder” be assigned to sit with Casper at any school event for three years, and if he refuses that, the association will join a legal effort with the school to bar him from coming on school property.
Additionally, Tabiona was placed on probation for three years, during which time it will be subject to random “sportsmanship audits” by the association.
“Should any of these audits disclose violations of the association’s sportsmanship rules, the sport in which such violations are disclosed will play all games of the next season on the road.”
Blake Ostler, an attorney for Jenkins, Gines and Tabiona High, declined to comment on the decision Friday until he had time to discuss it with school officials and school board members.
The panel was blunt in how it viewed a confrontation between an Intermountain parent, Duane Koski, and Gines. The incident also included Drisdom, who was restrained by a school employee in an alcove off camera. Like Gines, Drisdom was fined $250 for the confrontation, as he didn’t prevent Koski from accessing the hallway. Video shows Koski running down the hallway toward Gines and being physically restrained by a school volunteer.
The melee, as they refer to it in the decision, was captured by Tabiona High’s security cameras, and it shows Drisdom, Koski and Gines all being restrained at different times as words are exchanged.
“The confrontation in the Tabiona hallway was an embarrassment, as well as a violation of the association’s sportsmanship rules,” the decision said. “Nothing like it can ever happen again.”
The panel fined Intermountain Christian School $1,000 for a “lack of institutional control not only for the misbehavior (of Koski), but for permitting a parent into the secure area of the locker room hallway that almost resulted in violence.”
The panel will require Intermountain to assign a “minder” to sit with Koski at school events and report any violations. If Koski refuses, the association will request a restraining order against his attendance at any Intermountain basketball game.
Attempts to locate Koski for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
The panel did not believe Drisdom threatened the life of a Tabiona player, but it did find his alleged effort to “grab” the player and advise him on his behavior to be “inappropriate.” Therefore, he will be suspended for two games in the 2019-20 season.
"Overall I think they got many of the facts correct," said Intermountain Christian attorney Frank Mylar. "We feel the sanctions against Tim are unfair given that he just said some words of wisdom to the player, and he could not control the parent who got out of hand. It was actually a violation of UHSAA rules to confine the student player to the locker room."
Drisdom and Mitch Menning, head of school for Intermountain, both expressed concerns with aspects of the decision.
"I'm not happy at all," Drisdom said. "It was very safe."
Drisdom said he did want to sit down and talk with Casper when this situation first came to light. But after several other statements were revealed during the hearing, he said he's lost faith in the possibility of that doing any good. He wasn't upset with the two-game suspension or the fine and said he recognized his own failures and where he could make improvements.9 comments on this story
"I think it's important that (the panel) said there was overt racism," Menning said. "I think that's an important recognition. … I think they clearly only ruled on things that could absolutely be proven, and that concerns me a bit."
Menning doesn't believe Intermountain Christian will play Tabiona next season in any sport, and he still hopes good can come from a difficult situation.
"Overall, I feel like the whole state is taking note," he said. "And I have to believe it will lead to progress. As far as dealing with fan behavior, I don't feel like there is a lot of teeth in it. but we'll try to do as much as we can."