Sitka Wolves howling over JDHS column

Newspaper piece triggers outcry, apology

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2002

A satirical column in the Juneau-Douglas High School student newspaper comparing a Sitka basketball loss to child abuse and rape has caused a outcry in that city and has led JDHS officials to apologize to their Sitka counterparts.

The anonymous column, a fictional piece recounting a Juneau victory over the Sitka girls' basketball squad, appeared in the February issue of the J-Bird on a page traditionally reserved for satire and humor, but not clearly marked as such.

An issue reached Sitka High School in a routine exchange of the schools' papers, and as it circulated Sitka High Principal Randy Hawk said "it kind of took a life of its own."

"It was perceived as derogatory toward the Sitka Wolves basketball program," he said. "But the (column's references) were things that were like kicking you when you're down."

The piece included a fictional quote from a Sitka coach that compared the loss to a father beating his child.

" 'I see this not as a defeat,' said an anonymous coach when asked about the game, 'but instead, the kind of whippin' that you got when you tried as a 4-year old to make your dad stop hitting your mother,' " the column stated.

The article also called the Juneau victory "the moral equivalent of smothering a baby," and said that "while the bright lights and cheering stands of the gym initially bore little resemblance to a prison shower ... rape is one of the best, and perhaps the only way, to describe just how incredible and lamentable the Wolves' loss was."

Hawk contacted JDHS officials and said he has received several apologies. JDHS Principal Deb Morse said she agreed the article "crossed the line several times."

"Everyone feels bad that it happened and we want to ... mend any broken fences between Juneau and Sitka," she said.

Morse spoke with the student who wrote the column, who was not named and declined the opportunity to speak for this article, and the J-Bird adviser. The adviser, JDHS teacher Kristin Garot, said she discussed the column with the paper's managing editor before publication and a decision was made to run it as-is.

"It was felt that it was obviously a satirical piece," Garot said. "Our sports section has factual articles, documented sources, and a byline for each article. This satire was on a page traditionally dedicated to humor and was written in a style that was not 'newsy.' "

Managing Editor Odin Miller said he acknowledges the piece went "a bit over the edge" but said it was intended solely as satire.

Garot and Morse said copies of the newspaper have been disappearing off school stands before students can read them. Morse said she has not authorized anyone to take such action; Garot said it appeared to be the work of someone in "the self-appointed role of censor."

Morse said the column did not violate any district policy, so no disciplinary action will be taken. However, she said the incident has rekindled her interest in seeing the J-Bird tied to a journalism class that would discuss this type of issue.

One concrete change will be clearly delineating the humor page in future issues of the J-Bird, Garot said.

Garot said the paper's staff learned a lesson about the power of writing. She also said that while the piece was satire, she will take a closer look at items that fall near the line "between allowing students the freedom to express their thoughts, opinions, and humor inappropriate and tasteless as it might be and censoring their words."

"As I continue to advise my student editors, I will encourage them to think more markedly on the choices they make as I will on my own," she said.

Concerns about the column were heightened because Sitka teams are in Juneau this week to compete in the Region V basketball tournament.

Hawk said he discussed the issue at a Sitka High School assembly Tuesday and posted the apology from JDHS for students to read in hopes of diffusing tensions.

Sitka girls basketball coach Rich Krupa said he was upset that quotes in the article were seemingly attributed to him and to his players, but said "the ladies and I sat down and talked, and we figured it wasn't somebody from the basketball program (who wrote the piece). ... We understand it's an individual and (not) the whole school."

Krupa said his team is looking beyond the article and focusing on this week's games.

"We're not even worried about it," he said. "We're going to go and have fun and play hard."

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.





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