Something clearly happened during the Sept. 23 volleyball game between Enumclaw and Washington High School — but details are scarce, and rumors abound, as parents took to social media about the incident.
Most of what the Courier-Herald knows about the incident stems from a letter from EHS Principal Dr. Rod Merrell, which was sent to students and parents Friday, Sept. 24.
“Last Thursday at our home volleyball game versus Washington High School, the EHS Student section engaged in fan behavior unbecoming of our high school or our community. EHS students directed derogatory comments towards opposing players, coaches, and fans, barked at opposing players, yelled at officials, failed to wear masks, and failed to follow the directions of school officials. At the end of the contest some students followed the opposing team to their bus, yelled more derogatory comments, swore, made threats, and surrounded the bus blocking its exit,” Merrell wrote. “I had to contact the principal of Washington High School and formally apologize for our students’ behavior. This is unacceptable.”
Exactly what Merrell meant by “derogatory comments” is unclear, and neither Enumclaw nor Washington High School clarified the statement with specifics; district Public Information Officer Jessica McCartney only added that there was “swearing and making threats.”
However, many parents seem to be under the impression that students engaged in racist behavior at the game. One Facebook post about the incident quoted Superintendent Dr. Shaun Carey saying, “Racism, racist behavior and acts of hate are unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the Enumclaw School District.”
”The fact that Dr. Carey made that his opening statement is an admission that you know this is a problem,” the post continued. “It’s time for action! It’s time for this district to stand by their Superintendents’ pledge.”
But Carey’s message wasn’t about the volleyball game, or any incident at the district.
“That is language from his Superintendent’s Message [for] Acts of Hate, which he sent out last year,” McCartney said. “This was his message that went out right after George Floyd.”
The Courier-Herald has reached out to several parents, students, and district employees that were at the game for information; none were able to corroborate that anything racist was said at the Sept. 23 game.
However, the incident looks to have opened the floodgates for stories about bullying and racism across the district.
“I’ve lived in this community for 53 years and can attest to the rampant racism and homophobia,” one post reads.
“Enumclaw district is horrible with that,” is another. “My daughter experienced racism (she’s black) and it has been my biggest worry about having her in the ESD.”
“Sad and I do believe it,” a third reads. “I saw things first hand when my kids were students in the Enumclaw school district. (Heard more once they were out of EHS) Hope things can change and students held accountable for their actions.”
Other parents argued that it was Washington that was the problem, or at least instigated the event.
“I was there and the students were saying nothing racist at all,” is a fourth comment. “When I was leaving the only racist thing that I heard was the other team Washington two girls in the commons saying “How vanilla Enumclaw High School is and can’t they get some color out here!?”
As punishment for how students acted at the game, the high school decided to close sporting events to the student body for a week (Sept. 27 – Oct 4). Parents and guardians were still able to attend the games, as well as siblings of student athletes, so long as they were accompanied by their parents.
The home games that were affected by this decision included two varsity tennis matches, girls varsity swimming, boys varsity water polo, and — maybe most importantly — the long-awaited rivalry volleyball game between Enumclaw and White River High School.
McCartney said the decision to ban students from these sporting events wasn’t aiming to be a punishment, but “to teach students and re-direct them toward the appropriate positive behavior.”
Of course, many folks didn’t exactly support the ban on student attendees — including volleyball coach Jackie Carel.
“We do feel like we got reprimanded for something we didn’t do, because they got their fans taken away,” she said in a Sept. 27 interview, before the big game. “I’m not against what the high school did. They had to do something, because it was really bad — I just feel bad for the girls.”
Carel emphasized that her athletes were in no way, shape, or form involved in what happened in the crowd, and clarified that she was not aware of what was being said or done.
“We were just playing the game,” the coach continued. “The whole thing really took me by surprise.”
Banning all students from attending sporting events appears to be an unusual reaction for the district to take.
“I don’t recall any other time at EHS that all students were not allowed to attend events,” said Phil Engebretsen, who was been at the district since 2013 as the athletic director (though now serves as the assistant director of assessment, technology, athletics, and activities). “However we have had times where individuals or groups were given this consequence due to their behavior. I have heard of this happening at other district events when there are anticipated behavior concerns but I can’t recall specifically where and when.”
“Enumclaw HS has a reputation for being a supportive student body with a lot of spirit. However this time our students, both athlete and non-athlete, went too far and it won’t be tolerated,” Engebretsen continued. “We are better than this and will use this time to reflect and be better together.”