Taholah High School athletes blackballed

by: Deborah Horne Updated:

Student athletes at Taholah High School were concerned last December when four local school districts voted to dissolve their athletic league and become independent.  Then the districts decided they would rather forfeit the remaining games than play Taholah's athletes, most of them members of the Quinault Indian Tribe.

The tribe sued. 

Tribal members believe the district's actions are racist.

Now a wave of resentment is washing over the community on Washington's Pacific Coast known for fielding teams with an impressive history of winning. 

The four school districts that voted to disband the league -- Lake Quinault, Mary M. Knight, North River and Wishka Valley -- accused Taholah of inappropriate fan behavior, swearing on the sidelines and athletes breaking the rules. 

No one from the four school districts would talk to KIRO 7 Eyewitness News.

So KIRO 7 went to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which oversees the student athletic leagues.

WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said his agency acts as mediator.

“It would have been helpful if those schools would have been communicating on a more regular basis,” Colbrese said.       

Colbrese said before the dissolution, WIAA was asked to take a look at Taholah's program.

“We found that there were some irregularities,” he said.

One “irregularity” involved 17-year- old Justin Curleybear.  He is a star Taholah basketball and football player.  But he was allowed to play despite being ineligible because of residency issues.  He and his family took the  WIAA's rebuke personally.  His mother said his grades suffered.

Colbrese said  the tipping point for the districts was a threat made at a Taholah game. 

"Somebody said to a contest official, a referee, 'I have a gun in my pickup and I know how to use it,' " Colbrese said.

But Taholah Athletic Director Jerry Walthers doesn't believe the gun incident happened.

“Prove it,” said Walthers.

And the students said they have been targeted at games, too.

“They had like a group of boys calling us nasty names," said Taholah athlete Laura James.  “Like, ‘dirty natives,’ ‘dirty Indians.’”

“And ‘savages,’” added Taholah athlete Adrian Vitalis.

Now a half year of sports has been lost.

And the students said no matter how the lawsuit is ultimately decided, the league's action has taken something precious -- the ability to compete in their senior year.

Despite that, the girls and boys basketball teams won playoff games and made it to the state championships.