(INDIANAPOLIS) - The Indiana High School Athletic Association is investigating complaints from Lawrence North about racially targeted behavior and taunts from the Bedford North Lawrence crowd during the girls basketball semi state game at Bedford on Saturday.
"Those concerns are currently under investigation," said Chris Kaufman, IHSAA assistant commissioner, who added the IHSAA had no other comment at this time.
Lawrence North lost in overtime to Bedford North Lawrence at Bedford in the 4A girls basketball semi-state Saturday.
Lawrence North Principal Brett Crousore complained in a letter sent on Tuesday, and obtained by The Indianapolis Star through a public records request, of several issues he felt needed to be addressed, including racially targeted behavior and a public perception of systematic racism. Crousore also questioned the location of the game at Bedford, noting the Lawrence North team is composed entirely of African-Americans and they were playing an all-white team in a predominantly white community. Bedford North Lawrence actually starts a biracial player.
In his letter, Crousore wrote that some members of the Bedford North Lawrence student section wore gorilla outfits and other students wore safari gear at the game. Those donning the gorilla costumes stood underneath the Lawrence North basket during warm-ups.
"Our assistant coach moved to stand between the BNL students and our players," Crousore wrote. "After I addressed this issue with the BNL Athletic Director, at the beginning of first quarter, he did have the students remove the costumes. He seemed amazed that I did not approve."
Bedford North Lawrence athletic director Jeff Callahan confirmed the students were asked to take off the gorilla costumes during the first quarter, but said the costumes were not racially motivated.
"The safari was a theme because we were going after Wildcats," Callahan told the Star, referring to Lawrence North's nickname. "Those (gorilla suits) had been worn at games throughout the year. I talked to the principal at Lawrence North and we discussed it. We made the decision to ask them to take them off. It wasn't like they brought them out just for that game."
Crousore wrote in his letter that students, coaches, parents and his administrative team saw the attire as a racially insensitive choice.
But that wasn't the end of the complaints.
Crousore described in his letter the use of racial comments directed at his students: "In the last two days, I have received reports that students were referred to with racial slurs, including the N-word, while waiting in line for concessions at halftime."
"Then, like, the student section was really rude and, like, anytime we did anything, they were calling us 'disrespectful' or 'ratchet' for no reason. Flat out no reason," said Lawrence North player Peyton Stewart.
But Bedford North Lawrence Principal Roger Dean says his students meant no harm, that the pep club chose a safari theme for the game because the Lawrence North mascot is a wildcat.
"You know, 'Cage the Wildcats,' or whatever," Dean said. "It's just a good, clean rivalry between two schools. Evidently, someone misconstrued that."
But the Lawrence North players say there was no misconstruing the racially-charged comments from the student section.
"They were, like, trying to say we were from Gary. They were, like, 'Go back to Gary,' because a lot of ghetto black people are from there," said Lawrence North player Autumn Jones.
Dean says he didn't hear any racist slurs and says his students just wanted to create school spirit - not to offend.
"There was never any intent of a racial theme involved with that. It was just simply based on their school mascot," he said.
Callahan said he did not hear any racial slurs or taunts during the game.
Lawrence North Athletic Director Grant Nesbit said in a statement Wednesday that Lawrence North appreciates the efforts of Bedford North Lawrence school officials and have had productive conversations with them since the semi state game.
Tournament sites are chosen by IHSAA before the school year, but Lawrence North officials believe the game should have been played in Richmond to avoid a home-court advantage.
Lawrence North officials said they had concerns before the game. Nesbit said he did not have any complaints with how the game was officiated or have any questions about the officials' integrity, but he did contact the IHSAA prior to the game to request that an ethnic minority be part of the crew. That did not happen.
Nesbit and Lawrence North girls coach Chris Giffin agree many of the incidents that happened would have been avoided if the game was played at a neutral site. He also cited that it was also unfair BNL had to host Columbus North in the regional last month.
He hopes the IHSAA board of directors will consider changing that policy regarding neutral sites, stating that officials are not happy how tournaments are being run.
Lawrence North officials plan to meet with IHSAA board of directors later this month to "work in concert with them on arriving at reasonable solutions to ensure such unfortunate situations do not occur again and that games of this magnitude are contested on a level field of play."
The IHSAA will not comment on the investigation.
Bedford North Lawrence won the game, 62-54, and will face Penn Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute for the Class 4A state championship.
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