Officials from two community colleges are at odds over a claim that basketball fans made monkey noises at opposing teams visiting the Arkansas school.
The Parsons Sun, a southeast Kansas newspaper that covers sports teams from Labette Community College, reported Saturday that footage of a game last week showed fans from North Arkansas College making the racially-charged taunts. Those included crow caws while black players from the Labette men’s and women’s teams were shooting free throws.
North Arkansas College said Thursday that the National Junior College Athletic Association will be investigating the allegations.
The statement said the crow caws were made by one fan with the sole intent of distracting opposing players, whom another statement from Labette Community College referred to as an “elderly gentleman.”
“The fan had no racial intent and contacted the college to volunteer to stop making the noise if it was perceived hurtful to anyone,” North Arkansas College said.
The man was identified by the Harrison Daily Times as W.J. Ozier, 88, who expressed concern about people organizing to go to the next game to make crow calls in support of him. Ozier told the newspaper he hoped people will "let this die."
The school, which is located in Harrison in Boone County, stated that video footage available to the college could not substantiate other reported claims.
However, Labette coaches and players believe the “inappropriate, racially-toned noises” came from college-aged spectators, according to its statement. Officials from both schools have reportedly been in contact since the article was published.
"While we do not know exactly what was said, when or by whom, I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and the college for any behavior that may have been insensitive or hurtful," North Arkansas College President Randy Esters said in the statement. "We have begun making proactive plans to make sure everyone feels welcome in Pioneer country."
The video that is the source of that claim was provided anonymously to the Sun, the newspaper reported Friday. The article also noted that crow caws have often been used to reference Jim Crow laws.
North Arkansas College is scheduled to be the site of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Women’s Basketball Championship, which takes place from March 20-24. Harrison also served as the tournament’s location in 2017, according to the association’s website.