Family of soccer star subjected to racism angered by league’s response

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The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) did not consider as part of its investigation into racist taunts at a championship soccer game written testimony from the mother of the affected player, the mother, Rachel Wilson, told Just Women’s Sports.

The CIF then issued sanctions against Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills), the offending school, that have been panned by many as too lenient considering the stakes of the incident and the comparisons to similar episodes.

Ciara Wilson, a senior forward at Buchanan (Clovis) committed to Fresno State, on March 5 stepped to the line for penalty kicks in her team’s Division 1 Northern California Championship game against Oak Ridge, which was hosting the match.

As Wilson wound up for her kick, a fan seated in Oak Ridge’s student section pierced the silence with a monkey sound: “Oo-Oo-Ah-Ah!” Wilson, who is Black, immediately pointed to the crowd, and her coach, Jasara Gillette, ran onto the field to tell the referees the game could not continue. Her request was not heeded, and Oak Ridge won the game in penalty kicks.

The student who made the noise was not ejected from the game and was not reprimanded until several days later.

Rachel Wilson submitted a letter to Ron Nocetti, CIF’s executive director, on March 19.

“We want to know: why did the game continue without a full investigation of who made the loud monkey sounds toward my daughter? Why did the Oak Ridge staff, coaches, referees and CIF official present not uphold and honor the rules and bylaws that they are supposed to uphold to protect student-athletes?” Rachel wrote in the letter, citing Oak Ridge’s student handbook. “When the game was over, I saw my beautiful daughter’s body shaking uncontrollably.”

On March 25, the CIF announced its sanctions against Oak Ridge, placing the school on “probation” through the end of the 2023-24 school year. The sanctions called for school staff and students to complete sportsmanship workshop/training and for administrators and athletic directors to undergo “game management training.”

It also stipulated that Buchanan must host any soccer games between the schools during the probation period, and that Oak Ridge administrators were “strongly encouraged” to engage with Buchanan administrators to “begin the process of developing a positive relationship between the two school communities.”

The CIF sanctions represented a stark contrast to those levied against Coronado in June 2021. The school was stripped of its regional boys’ basketball championship after fans threw tortillas at players from Orange Glen, which has a high Latino population.

After the Oak Ridge sanctions were announced, Rachel Wilson said she requested a call with Nocetti but was denied. In an email to her, Rachel said, Nocetti noted the CIF had considered all “timely” information submitted for the investigation; the CIF had instituted a March 11 submission deadline that Rachel said was not relayed to the Wilson family.

In response to a question about the family’s ongoing quest for more clarity on the decision-making behind the sanctions, a CIF spokesperson pointed JWS to its statement issued March 24 containing the original sanctions. When asked about the consideration of Rachel’s testimony, which was submitted after the deadline, the spokesperson referenced a different statement the Wilson family had posted to Twitter detailing the incident.

“CIF reviewed and considered the Wilson Family’s ‘final statement’ that was submitted as part of Buchanan High School’s documentation,” the spokesperson wrote.

Rachel said the social media statement was not intended to be its last comment on the account. “In no way did we ever intend that to be a final detailed testimony of how we felt and our account of what we saw and what happened. It was very brief,” she wrote in a text.

Nearly two months after the incident, Gillette and the Wilson family are not ready to give up the fight.

“The people in the room, how many of them have been in this situation? How many of them know what it means to be a 17-year-old girl standing by themselves?” said Gillette, who sent her teams’ plaque and second-place medals back to the CIF in protest. “I want to fight to make people understand this is a big deal.”

“What these people don’t get is, the rest of our lives, we don’t move on, we just carry it with us,” Rachel said, holding back tears.

Rachel, who said she’s been in contact with the NAACP about the situation, and that the NAACP plans to meet with CIF officials, often thinks back to the moments after the incident. As Buchanan players, coaches and parents screamed in protest, Gillette turned to the Buchanan side and insisted the referees were going to do something.

Wilson is still waiting for action.

“I think we’re putting too much trust in these people in these leadership positions,” Rachel said. “A 17-year-old girl is suffering now.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.