Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
The topic of race entered the Montana high school basketball conversation this week as divisional tournaments begin around the state.
In a post on catcountry1029.com that has since been deleted, Cat Country KCTR 102.9 radio personality Paul Mushaben suggested that Native American and non-Native basketball teams should have separate tournaments.
Without specific context, Mushaben referenced "another instance this week" during which an "Indian team involved in a tournament left people rethinking if it's worth it or not to host a tourney."
"The crowd is so unruly and disrespectful of the facility that it may be time for the MHSA to proceed with an all Indian tourney," he wrote, referring to the Montana High School Association.
He added that it's "not safe anymore" after the situation he referenced and that, ultimately, it's the student athletes who suffer.
The post appeared Tuesday morning and was taken down without explanation later that day. But some who saw the post vented their frustrations at the radio station on Facebook. Many viewed it as a suggestion of race-based segregation.
Cat Country Market President Mike Sutton declined to comment Wednesday.
Cat Country, which is owned by Townsquare Media, responded to a Facebook post Tuesday from its station account. It said "management is dealing with it" and that the station doesn't approve of Mushaben's comments. The post said an apology would be issued, though none has appeared on Cat Country's website or Facebook.
Mushaben, who co-hosts "The Breakfast Flakes" show on the country station, didn't back down from his post. He was back on air Wednesday morning, saying he was censored with the removal of the post.
Mark Wilson, Mushaben's co-host, wrote another post Wednesday morning that took issue with commenters who called for Mushaben's firing. He said that would be a severe punishment for a "difference of opinion."
When reached by the Gazette newspaper on Wednesday, Mushaben denied that there was a racial overtone to his post, which he titled "Indian Basketball." He said he was pointing out the source of an issue.
"It seems that the majority of the problems occur when Native Americans play," Mushaben said.
He did not further describe the incident the Tuesday post referenced.
He said he likens his comments to the issue of gang violence in cities like Chicago, which he said "comes basically from the African American community."
Mushaben did add that the rules should be the same for all teams, no matter where they're based or where they play.
Some area school superintendents had seen Mushaben's post by Wednesday morning. At least one had received phone calls about it.
None who spoke with the Gazette denied that the crowd atmosphere at high school games can get heated, even unruly. But they rejected the idea that reservation schools - and the fans that follow them - are any more boisterous than others.
"A lot of this stuff, I think, is a bit of urban legend," said Gerald Chouinard, superintendent of Lame Deer Public Schools. "But to say that nothing's ever happened between schools - those are rivalries."
The administrators, many of whom have roots in Montana, talked about when they were students and the sports rivalries like Butte and Anaconda or Havre and Malta. Crowd incidents happen sometimes, but it's not limited to people from, say, reservations.
"It's not the kids who are causing the issues. It's the fans," said Kelly Haaland, superintendent and activities director at Melstone Public Schools. "And the fans on both sides can be equally bad."
Melstone plays Class C teams in District 4C, including the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School.
Mark Beckman, executive director of the MHSA, said in an email to the Gazette that the group received numerous calls from attendees about crowd conduct.
He said they've not had complaints from tournament managers in recent events, and no school has declined to host a tournament based on who is playing.
While school administrators agreed that crowd management isn't just a reservation problem, they also disagreed with the segregation of tournaments.
There are exhibition tournaments that feature Native student-athletes, such as the All-American Indian Shootout that took place at the MetraPark in December. But those are invitational and aren't part of the regular MHSA season.
Still, some said it's a topic that's come up before, though it's not a popular one.
"I think having a segregated tournament - I don't think that's the right route," said Sam Bruner, Chief Plenty Coups superintendent. "I don't know what it would accomplish other than it would cause more division."
In a response from the Montana High School Association, executive director Mark Beckman said: "As stated in the MHSA Handbook, the MHSA and its 179 member schools fully support the concept of equal opportunity for the youth of the State of Montana. There will be no discrimination with regard to gender, religion, race or ethnic origin in activities sponsored by the Association.
"The Montana High School Association has received numerous calls and emails in response to comments posted on various websites after the 2017 district basketball tournaments. In particular, individuals are expressing concern over recent online postings that allege that several fans of Native American teams have contributed to an undesirable environment at district tournaments. Certain online postings have further expressed the opinion that Native American teams should have a separate tournament from other member schools.
"The MHSA has not received any concerns from the tournament managers of the recently held district tournaments on crowd issues from this past weekend. Also, district and divisional tournament sites are determined by the schools in those districts and divisions. The MHSA has not had any school, community or facility express to our office that they wouldn't host a tournament because Native American schools were participating.
"The MHSA is a member-based entity which strives to exemplify inclusion, opportunity and tolerance in all aspects of student activities, regardless of the level of participation or the location of the events.
"The MHSA will not exclude or discriminate against any participants or their fans, and further is concerned with the intolerance expressed through certain online postings and social media. Member schools, staff and the Executive Board will continue to address any and all sportsmanship issues in a cooperative and collegial manner with the shared goal of eliminating bias from any event at any level. Negative fan behavior or other crowd control incidents will be addressed with the commensurate level of response."
Wire services contributed to this report.
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