Gladstone, Molalla districts investigate blackface incident
Gladstone and Molalla River school districts say they're investigating a report of a student who allegedly wore blackface to a basketball game between the two schools on Friday night, Jan. 28.
Molalla Superintendent Tony Mann and Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart are working collaboratively with the Oregon School Activities Association in hiring an independent investigator as part of their efforts to create school environments that are welcoming and free from bullying, racial slurs, harassment and other forms of bias.
"We must never stop evaluating and improving how we treat each other in this world, and we have zero tolerance for racial discrimination and intimidation in our schools," they wrote with Peter Weber, OSAA executive director, in a joint statement on Feb. 2. "This is a challenging moment for all of us, and it is imperative we use it as an opportunity to improve understanding, demonstrate care and deepen our connections within, and between, our communities."
Flynn 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. 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 that night and said the black face paint wasn't the only racist thing the students did that night. Jazeon Hammick 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 Hammick 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," she 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 Hammick and Lisa Brechbiel, Fynn's mother, said this wasn't the first time Gladstone student athletes faced racism this school year. Lisa Brechbiel 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 on Monday, Jan. 31, 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 Flynn 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 Hammick and Lisa. Brechbiel 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.
OSAA said it has seen an increase in the number of complaint forms submitted to its office in the 2021-22 school year compared to the 2020-21 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.
Amanda Arden of KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.
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