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Tigard students behavior at basketball game outrages Canby resident

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Kirsten Schmieding Voyer is a resident of Canby.)

On Friday, February 22, I attended the boys basketball game at Canby High School versus Tigard High School. Because it was a game to determine league standing heading into the state championships, emotions were running high for both players and spectators.

As a Canby High alumnus and district employee, I enjoy supporting athletics; these days it seems the games are as much about the battle of the bleacher crews as they are about the basketball, and I love the school spirit. At last Friday's game, however, I saw Tigard's team spirit move beyond the support of their players and into outright malicious discrimination of Canby students, parents and community members.

Although I missed a previous appearance by Tigard's team at Canby, I heard from many students that the Tigard student section dressed as farmers. It is my understanding that the students interpreted this as a comment on, and mockery of, Canby's rural roots. There was much speculation in the classroom as to how the Tigard students would choose to stereotype Canby leading up to last Friday's game.

Indeed, come game night, the Tigard student section seemed to be attempting to communicate something through collective costuming. But, between the matching shirts (printed with a reference to someone named 'Frankie') and other garments following a fluorescent color scheme, the message was lost on me. It wasn't until later in the game that I noticed that some of the Tigard students had donned fake beards. That message came through loud and clear, and it infuriated me.

It is well known to me that Canby High's athletic department has worked very hard over the last decade to foster an environment of inclusiveness pertaining to underrepresented ethnicities within the school and larger community. As a result, Canby teams are benefiting from the talent and skill of many Asian, African-American, Latino, Russian Orthodox and other minority students more than ever before. Their very presence contributes to the richness and value of the scholastic experience at Canby, both athletic and academic.

The beards worn by Tigard students were a clear reference to the Russian Orthodox athletes at Canby and the families supporting them in the Cougar gym that night. I watched with humiliation and mortification as those students were allowed by both Canby and Tigard's administrative representatives to continue wearing the beards for the entire game.

It is not difficult to extrapolate this demonstration of 'team spirit' into far more offensive arenas. Is it too far-fetched to imagine these students representing Tigard at Benson High School in blackface? Am I wrong to assume they could dare to show up at Central Catholic dressed as priests and nuns? Would anyone be surprised if they showed up in Molalla dressed in paper-bag vests, painted faces and colored turkey feathers? To many, these examples are blatant demonstrations of discrimination; the beards, however, slipped under the radar.

I feel shame and embarrassment for those ignorant students. But for Tigard's administrators, I feel pure admonishment - for how are any of our young people to understand what is respectful and appropriate in that situation without the guidance of those adults?

In my opinion, Tigard owes us an apology. But more specifically, Tigard owes our Russian Orthodox community an apology.

Come to think of it, I would like to apologize to Canby's Russian Orthodox community. Shame on me for recognizing a teachable moment and failing to seize it. I should have said something right then and there. Instead, I sat like many others in outrage - and acceptance.

The Russian Orthodox community in Canby has welcomed the great American challenge of living with a foot in two worlds, maintaining powerful and precious traditions while integrating with and contributing to the mainstream. By insulting valued members of my community, Tigard has discredited this effort.

Tigard students seem eager to stereotype their opponents in the name of Tiger spirit. And as members and representatives of the Tigard community at large, I hope they are just as excited to be labeled as racists and bigots by the students and families of their athletic adversaries. It is my enduring hope that Tigard's administration will address this issue with great seriousness and that Canby will never allow that kind of blatant disrespect in our own house ever again.