BOZEMAN — Columbia Falls High School has apologized and fired its public address announcer over a comment he made while introducing the starting lineups before the Wildkats' girls game against Browning on Friday night.
In doing so, the unidentified announcer described the Browning Lady Indians as the "Lazy Indians", according to a letter of apology sent by Columbia Falls Principal Scott Gaiser to Browning Public Schools Superintendent Corrina Guardipee-Hall.
"Though he was acting on his own, we understand that the word the announcer used reflects poorly on our school and community," Gaiser wrote. "We are extremely embarrassed and remorseful."
Gaiser said the PA announcer told him he intended to say "lady" instead of "lazy" and that he "takes full responsibility for his actions." The man apologized to Browning coach Ray Augare immediately after the game, Gaiser added.
"No matter his intent, his actions were inexcusable and he has been terminated from any further duties at CFHS," Gaiser continued in the letter. "We are saddened by this incident because it does not represent the respect and appreciation we have for the staff and students at Browning High School and the Browning community."
On Saturday, Guardipee-Hall responded with a letter to the Browning community acknowledging apologies from Gaiser and Columbia Falls Superintendent Steve Bradshaw as well as the termination of the announcer. In it, she asks the school's fans to "rise above this" ahead of the teams' boys game Saturday evening in the Blackfeet Nation capital.
"As highly inappropriate, insensitive and inexcusable as this incident was in Columbia Falls, we want to ensure that we rise above this and commit to showing the Columbia Falls boys' basketball team, coaches and audience members the upmost respect, civility, and sportsmanship today because that's who we are!" Guardipee-Hall wrote. "The Columbia Falls boys' basketball team, coaches, and fans who will be in attendance had absolutely nothing to do with this unfortunate incident. We want to keep our focus on the youth and continue being positive role models for our students."
This is the second incident in less than a year involving Columbia Falls, Browning and a slur.
This past February, at the Western A divisional, a Columbia Falls backer held a sign at a game that read "FTI" — a clearly derogatory message toward the Browning teams, which are comprised of Blackfeet Tribe members.
Less than a month later, before the Class A tournament in Great Falls, the Wildkats made a point of stopping in Browning, where they presented a Pendleton blanket to the boys and girls teams as a gift during a pep rally.
“Great respect for Browning,” Columbia Falls girls coach Cary Finberg told 406mtsports.com at the time. “I appreciate the fact they allowed us to go into their gym while they’re celebrating their teams and to do that so hopefully we can put this behind us and move forward and focus on basketball and hopefully it’s a lesson learned from everybody.”
Said Augare of the gift then: “I think that they just wanted to make sure that we knew that that wasn’t something they condoned. I didn’t know that they were going to show up until the day of the pep rally so I thought it was pretty nice of them to kind of set things straight.”
In September 2018, the Browning cross country teams were asked not to enter a convenience store in the Kalispell area while en route to a meet in Missoula. The owner later apologized and said the incident wasn't racially motivated; he told the Flathead Beacon he simply didn't want a busload of students in his store at once.
Gaiser acknowledged the February incident in his Friday letter to Guardipee-Hall.
"In light of an incident last year, we recognize that there is a great deal of work to be done to reestablish your trust and continue the positive relationship with the students and staff at Browning High School that we have enjoyed for many years," Gaiser wrote. "It is our wish to honor Browning High School students, staff and community and hope that working through this together will serve only to strengthen our friendship."