Video captures racist slurs at Laguna Hills High basketball game

An Orange County mother is speaking out after her son faced racist comments during a basketball game Friday night against Laguna Hills High School.

Sabrina Brown, the player’s mother, posted a video to Instagram on Tuesday in which a person is heard making references to slavery and shouting, “Chain him up,” and “Who let him out of his chains,” among other insults. A school district official said the comments came from a Laguna Hills student.

Brown was not available for an interview Tuesday night but gave The Times permission to use her post.

She said her son, Makai, plays for Portola High School and was going through his Saturday morning routine of watching game film before practice.

“He came into my room STUNNED,” Brown wrote in the caption to her Instagram post, which had been viewed more than 40,000 times as of Tuesday night. “What he heard directed 100% to him is contained in this video, but these disgusting, racist insults continued throughout the entire game footage. Needless to say, our family is up in arms.”

She accused the Laguna Hills boys’ basketball program of fostering “a culture of aggression, unsportsmanlike conduct and RACISM,” adding that the harmful behavior had to stop.

Brown also accused David Yates, Laguna Hills’ head varsity basketball coach, of being aggressive and verbally abusive toward her son.

Laguna Hills High is in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, and Portola High is part of the Irvine Unified School District.

Saddleback Valley Schools Supt. Crystal Turner condemned the language heard in the video and said officials have taken action.

“After a thorough fact finding process that included review of the entire game footage and interviews with each individual verified as being near the attendee, it was determined that the unacceptable comments were made by a [Laguna Hills High] student,” she said in a statement.

The student was counseled and disciplined, Turner said. Students who witnessed the incident were advised on their responsibility to “redirect such language” and immediately report it to school administrators.

School officials discussed the incident with players and coaches at practices, Turner said, and student government representatives and their advisor have discussed how to effect change.

The superintendent did not comment on Yates but said “appropriate personnel actions, while required to remain confidential, have taken place” regarding the Laguna Hills coach.

CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod said he was not aware of the video until contacted by The Times.

Wigod said he and his staff would contact the schools but wouldn’t be able to impose sanctions or discipline because the game wasn’t part of a playoff run by the Southern Section.

He condemned the comments heard in the video and said such language wasn’t acceptable at a game or anywhere.

Friday night’s incident is among multiple racist outbursts at Orange County high schools and sporting events in recent years.

In December 2019, a Santa Margarita Catholic High School student was expelled after sharing a racist video on Snapchat, according to KCAL-TV Channel 9.

In September that year, racist slurs at a football game hosted by San Clemente High School against San Diego’s Lincoln High School sparked an investigation by officials at both campuses.

San Clemente Principal Chris Carter wrote in a letter addressed to both school communities that Lincoln students said they were called racial slurs, that an investigation confirmed “two individuals in the restroom used a racial epithet when addressing a Lincoln High School student,” and that “ derogatory words” were heard in the bleachers.

The principal’s letter did not say whether the slurs were made by San Clemente students or adult spectators, nor did it say whether anyone would be disciplined in connection with the incident.

Lincoln High officials concluded their own investigation into the allegations, Principal Stephanie Brown wrote in a Facebook post at the time.

“Our students were subjected to anti-African American, anti-LatinX and anti-gay verbal abuse,” she wrote. “African-American students in particular were told to go back to Africa.”

The investigation also found that San Clemente security guards and staffers ignored “repeated requests for assistance” from Lincoln students, she wrote.

Times columnist Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.

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