Quinn Austin will step onto the basketball court Friday night under a much different spotlight than when he and teammates celebrated a state championship 25 years ago.
He and other members of the 1998 Standing Rock High School boys basketball team will be recognized for that achievement by the North Dakota High School Activities Association during the Class B Boys State Tournament. The honor comes at the same time Austin and others are pressing the association to make stricter policies on racist behavior in the wake of a late January incident involving his son and another nonwhite athlete, who is also related to Austin.
It’s a tough spot for Austin, who says he’s not comfortable being the center of attention. He hopes by appearing in a T-shirt promoting a zero tolerance policy he can make a statement “for people who don’t have a voice or somebody to speak for them.”
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“This isn’t about my son. It isn’t about my nephew. It’s not a single event,” he said. “We’re doing this to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody anymore. All it is is hate, and I don’t think there’s any place for it.”
Austin, a barber who also coaches several club basketball teams, played basketball for two years at Bismarck State College. Taunts came his way at the high school and college level, and he said he was treated unfairly by referees at times. He watched in Jamestown as a spectator made monkey noises while his son attempted a free throw. His son told him later he “felt all alone.”
“Every day I think about that as a parent,” Austin said. “Anything that’s negative or bad happening to me is always welcome compared to anything happening to my son.”
Austin’s son and another Bismarck High School player were the target of taunts, which included war whoops, monkey noises and use of the N-word, in Jamestown on Jan. 31.
“You don’t just come up with stuff like that,” Austin said. “That stuff was calculated. They knew what they were saying.”
Austin said he sat next to a man who offered vocal criticism of the referees during the game. A school official warned the man he could be kicked out if the talk continued. Austin complained to the same official about the racial taunts directed at his son. He said no action was taken.
Families on Feb. 3 lodged formal complaints with the activities association and Jamestown Public Schools, and later submitted written statements at the request of the school. The school district said a "handful" of middle and high school students were disciplined.
Jamestown Superintendent Robert Lech said student conduct was addressed the day after the incident. Disciplinary actions included suspension from school and activities, loss of participation in competitions for the rest of the season, loss of leadership positions and honor societies, required sensitivity training, and meetings with administration to review policy and behavioral expectations.
Investigation of the action or inaction of the administrator on duty has taken longer, Lech said. Statements were gathered until the end of February, and the last follow-up information requested was received on March 9. Lech expects formal findings soon, but did not specify a timeline.
All Jamestown students involved in the incident have agreed to participate in restorative practices with the Bismarck student-athletes, Lech said. The school district’s administration has started a regional task force “to more deeply examine equity, diversity, and inclusion more systemically and to create an action plan for improvement,” the superintendent said.
The district has also ramped up administrative coverage of the student section and revised its sportsmanship statement. Jamestown High School recently held a two-day summit to assess the school environment and design strategies to improve school culture, equity and behavioral expectations.
“There were many outstanding ideas discussed and we envision continuing this summit in the future as an opportunity to leverage student voice and continue to improve,” Lech said.
The association since the incident has installed a rule under which anyone making a racist slur will be removed from the venue. The policy was enacted at a mid-February meeting and went into effect immediately. Tribal officials and others, including Tim Purdon, the attorney representing the families, have said the policy doesn’t go far enough.
“There needs to be consequences in the policy,” Purdon said. “Immediate ramifications.”
The families in late February asked to hold a meeting with activities association board members before the State B basketball tournament. They seek representation on the association's board for reservation school districts and a zero tolerance policy for racist behavior at association events.
The association recommended the families meet with the new Sportsmanship and Citizenship Committee, Purdon said. The committee will be named April 4.
Rachel Bruner, attorney for the activities association, said the January incident "was an embarrassment to the entire state" and NDHSAA is "absolutely willing to make changes moving forward."
"The committee will be a really big step in that," Bruner said. "You can't stop people from being a certain way, but we can curtail it even more."
A request to change the makeup of the board has not been formally presented to the association, Bruner said. Such a move would require bylaw changes.
Austin has made the zero tolerance T-shirts available at several recent events. He doesn’t push them, but gives them to anyone who asks.
“Racism is a completely ridiculous thing and there should be no place for it. But guaranteed there is a place where we can make sure it doesn’t happen and that’s in schools,” Austin said.
The ceremonies on Friday are annual events. The association at state tournaments honors state championship teams from 25 and 50 years prior. Austin and his teammates in 1998 picked off a previously undefeated team to win the state title at the Class B level.
Members of the Fort Yates High School boys championship team from 1973 will also be recognized Friday. They competed then at the Class A level, and won a triple-overtime victory to claim the title. Team members approached the association about the regional interest in the anniversary, and the association agreed to hold the ceremony during the B tourney in Bismarck.
Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com