Racial slurs and death threats: A feud between two Utah high school coaches reaches a boiling point

Midvale • Intermountain Christian School and Tabiona High each called for punishment of the opposing school’s head boys’ basketball coach for alleged behavior during two incidents where racial slurs, taunting and death threats were said to have occurred.

Lawyers representing the board of education for Duchesne School District — Tabiona is located there — and ICS argued their cases for nearly six hours Monday to a five-person panel of representatives from the Utah High School Activities Association. The hearing consisted of ICS repeating allegations of racial slurs and taunting by Tabiona fans reported by The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month, and Tabiona alleging death threats and other violent behavior by ICS coaches and parents.

ICS wants Tabiona coach Lee Gines suspended for up to five years, while Tabiona wants ICS coach Tim Drisdom sanctioned for what it alleged as a threat on one of its players’ lives made by Drisdom after a game between the two teams in January.

It’s also possible that the two schools will not compete in any type of athletic competition for at least one year. Drisdom told The Tribune that decision was to be finalized at Monday’s hearing, but the issue did not come up.

Frank Mylar, the attorney representing ICS, said in his closing arguments that Tabiona fans “crossed the line and they know it.” He asked the panel to take action.

“I just want to urge this panel to take a stand in this case because unfortunately and sadly,” Mylar said, “the Tabiona administration has dug in their heels and are basically saying, ‘Oh yeah, these two incidents happened, but we don’t need to do anything'. … That is their response, and that is unacceptable.”

The panel will take the matter under advisement and submit a written decision “probably within 10 days”, said Mark Van Wagoner, the UHSAA’s legal counsel.

Blake Ostler, the attorney for the Duchesne School District’s board of education, argued that no one affiliated with Tabiona’s administration or basketball team was at fault, including Gines, and instead turned his attention to Drisdom’s alleged actions.

“We don’t mind a fair rule that says the fans can’t be out of line,” Ostler said. "Don’t punish the players and the teammates who didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t punish the school, the administration and all the people in Tabiona who didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t punish coach Gines, whose greatest crime seems to be that he came out of the locker room for about two seconds to find out what was going on. … But we do ask that there be appropriate punishment for coach Drisdom.”

Ostler alleged that Drisdom, after the game between ICS and Tabiona in mid-January, pulled a Tabiona player close to him while players and coaches from both teams congratulated each other and shook hands. Drisdom, Ostler said, told the player, “Son if you ever look at me like that again, you will lose your life.”

Drisdom denied that claim. His rebuttal was that he told the player, “You do not talk to adults like that. You are not about that life. You are not about that life.” The player in question testified that Drisdom did threaten his life and he felt “pretty scared.”

Another Tabiona player testified that he overheard the exchange between Drisdom and his teammate. He said he noticed his teammate “jerk his hand away” from Drisdom, then heard the ICS coach say, “Boy if you ever look at me like that again, you will lose your life.”

Mylar asked the player if it was possible that he heard Drisdom say “you could lose your rights” or “you are about that kind of life.” The player maintained that he heard Drisdom say the “lose your life” version of the comment.

Ostler expressed frustration that not enough attention did not seem to be placed on Drisdom’s alleged comments.

“It’s amazing that we’re talking about racial discrimination when we have a player who was threatened the way coach Drisdom threatened him,” Ostler said. “It’s not acceptable.”

No witnesses who testified on behalf of Tabiona disputed the claims a Tabiona fan, later identified as Leon Casper, directed racial slurs toward Drisdom and called him an “a--hole.” In regard to alleged racial slurs, however, almost all ICS witnesses who testified said they had not heard the slurs used and that they heard about those incidents from other sources, at times days later.

Monte Nay, a police officer who testified on behalf of Tabiona, said he was seated next to Casper and did not ever hear him yell “Blackie go home” to Drisdom. He said Casper asked him what was happening during a specific portion of the game, he replied that Drisdom picked up a technical foul, and Casper then said, “Well the f---ing n----- deserved it.”

The son of ICS head of school Mitch Menning testified that Casper did say “Blackie go home” to Drisdom, and did so loud enough that he heard it over what he described as “loud chaos” in the ICS student section.

Lawyers from both schools showed surveillance footage of incidents that happened at halftime of one of the games between ICS and Tabiona. One video appeared to show Drisdsom being led off the court by former ICS athletic director Josh Longoria.

Another video showed both teams entering their respective locker rooms, and Drisdom again being restrained by Longoria. Gines also is shown being pushed into Tabiona’s locker room by Mike Wagner, a teacher at Tabiona.

The second video also shows Duane Koski, the parent of ICS player, rush down the hallway toward Gines. The video shows ICS parent Jeremy Ferkin putting his body in front of Koski in order to separate him from from Gines.

Both sides used the footage to buttress their cases. None of the video had sound.

Gines, who has either taught or coached at Tabiona since 1981, said he felt “embarrassed” by how the ICS players and Drisdom were acting, mentioning that the team was hit with three technical fouls before halftime.

The UHSAA has attempted to take action to address incidents of racial comments and other types of derogatory language used during high school athletic events. The association’s board of trustees last week approved new language “strongly condemning unsportsmanlike behavior such as taunting and harassment” that will appear in the UHSAA handbook. The language includes a section defining racial harassment.