When Kenneth Wilson went to the Richland High School office last month, he wanted answers. His daughter, Kenzie Wilson, had mentioned in passing that her softball coach, Brenda Jacobson, had made racially insensitive comments. Wilson, shocked, wanted to know what Richland would do about the situation.
More than a month later, Wilson still doesn’t know where the Birdville school district stands, despite an investigation that produced multiple statements from players alleging that Jacobson made insensitive remarks about African-Americans, including Wilson’s daughter.
According to records obtained by the Star-Telegram through the Texas Open Records Act, Richland players claimed that Jacobson said “black people attract more heat,” that she described black people’s hair as “nappy” and “nasty” and that she said “black people don’t like water.” When a black player cut her leg sliding, Jacobson allegedly said, “See, everyone is white on the inside,” according to one statement.
The names of players were redacted in the records obtained by the Star-Telegram. Birdville also redacted information about the conclusion of the investigation, arguing that evaluative documents are protected by Texas law. The school district has sought an attorney general’s ruling about whether it has to make the documents public.
Jacobson denied making the remarks in her statement, citing, among other reasons, that players could not cite specific dates and times. One reported instance centered on a sliding drill when the field was wet and muddy. When Kenzie Wilson refused to participate, Jacobson allegedly made the comment about black people not liking water.
“In defense of this accusation, I was involved in the drills, therefore, if I would have made this comment, the entire varsity, JV and JV2 players, as well as Coach [Jay] Jones, Coach [Karen] Hauser and Coach [Joanna] Crow would have heard the comment,” Jacobson said in her statement for the investigation. “This comment was not made by me, and because of the nature of the drill and who was involved, this comment must be deemed inappropriate by all accounts and have never been said.”
Jacobson, who was placed on leave March 27 but returned to the team March 30, could not be reached for comment. An email request to her was referred to district spokesman Mark Thomas, who said all questions must be sent to him and not “individual staff members.” Joe Cammarata, the associate superintendent for staff and services, issued Jacobson’s notice of leave but declined to comment and referred questions to Thomas.
In an email this week, Thomas said the district completed a thorough investigation and “has taken appropriate action.” He didn’t specify what action was taken or what the conclusion of the investigation was. Thomas said the district couldn’t comment further since it was a personnel matter.
In the same email, Thomas pointed out that one player later retracted her statement about Jacobson saying “black people don’t like water” since she didn’t hear it firsthand. A separate player, though, did claim to hear the comment firsthand, as noted in the statements.
Two players denied hearing Jacobson make racially insensitive remarks.
While Birdville district administrators would not speak with the Star-Telegram, they communicated with Kenneth Wilson several times over the phone, through email and at least once in person.
On April 1, Birdville school board President Cary Hancock replied to Wilson in an email, writing that “we hope you and your daughter will be available for resolution.”
On April 7, Wilson spoke with Cammarata, who followed up their conversation with an email.
“As I shared with you on the phone today,” Cammarata wrote to Wilson, “your allegations regarding Coach Brenda Jacobson were investigated and handle[d] appropriately.”
The next day, Wilson met with Birdville Superintendent Darrell Brown, who also followed up with an email that referenced “differing points of view” and unclear evidence.
Brown wrote: “Please know that I do understand your point of view possibly better than you think, and I am aware of some issues where improvement is needed immediately.”
Wilson said Cammarata eventually told him the incident was a case of “bad judgment,” not racism. Wilson also claimed Cammarata pointed out that another black player on the team was not offended by the remarks.
Darren Darracq, the president of the team booster club, was told of four specific comments made by Jacobson from his daughter and another player, both of whom are white. Once Darracq verified they were heard firsthand, he sent an email to Jacobson and the Richland administration calling for the coach to resign.
While Darracq has continued to work cordially with Jacobson through the booster club, he still wants her to leave the program.
“This is not a personal thing,” Darracq said. “I don’t care if they’re taken out of context or not — those four comments can’t be used in a learning environment.”
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760