At basketball tournament, a small sign causes a big row

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A screenshot taken from this Facebook post shows Beau Hill holding the FTI sign. Hill said the letters mean “For Ty and Indy” and were not meant to be racist.

A nondescript sign displaying three simple letters at Saturday’s Girls Western A Divisional Basketball Championship has led to a social media storm over the past few days as Browning fans and many Native Americans have denounced the sign’s owner for what they say was racism.

Beau Hill, father of Wildkat sophomore guard LaKia Hill, says his sign, which displayed the letters “FTI” was taken out of context did not mean what many have assumed it did. Hill displayed the sign during the Columbia Falls-Browning championship game. Many Browning fans took it to be racist, particularly after a picture of Hill holding the sign was posted on social media.

A former professional bull rider on the PBR circuit, Beau issued a statement on his Instagram account after finding out how the sign was being received.

“So it just came to my attention that an inspirational sign I made for my daughter at a basketball tournament last weekend was interpreted as being racist. Just to clear things up FTI means For Ty and Indy. Ty was a great friend of my family. And Indy is our puppy,” Hill said.

Canadian professional bull rider Ty Pozzobon committed suicide in January 2017 and was later confirmed to be the first known case of traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurological disease that claims the lives of those who receive repeated blows to the head over a sustained period of time, in professional bull riding.

In an email to School District 6, Beau explained that Indy, the family puppy, did not make the trip to Hamilton for the tournament and had been missed by his daughter.

Hill went on to state that he has many friends in the Native American community, including several in Browning, where he spent time attending rodeos over the years.

“Whomever knows me knows I am not racist as I have many native friends from Montana and all over the United States and Canada. Anyone who saw me last weekend would have seen me cheering for the Browning Indians boys and girls teams. They are great teams, great athletes and are fun to watch. Also you will see me cheer them on at state in a couple weeks,” Hill said in his Instagram post. “I attend many rodeos with my kids in Browning and have gone to Indians Days there many times! My daughter is friends and has played 3-on-3 tournaments with some of the athletes from the Browning team. Ty continues to inspire my family and I won’t let his legacy die.”

Hill admitted in his email to the school that the sign was noticed by fans, who warned him that it’s message could be misinterpreted.

“Obviously the sign could mean many things. During the beginning of the game it came to my attention that it could mean a multitude of things so I put it away,” he said.

School District 6 Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said he was in attendance at the game, along with Columbia Falls High School Principal Scott Gaiser and Activities Director Troy Bowman, but they did not see and were not made aware of the sign during the contest.

“We did not see the sign. If we had, we would have done something about or at least questioned Mr. Hill about it,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said the school is still looking into the incident to determine what, if any, action is warranted.

“If interpreted the way some on social media have, the sign and its message are not reflective of how this school district feels. If it was intended the way some people are perceiving it, it’s not what we teach here, as can be seen in the attitude of our players and coaches. We are still looking into the situation,” he said. “We believe we have a great relationship with the Browning school and its students. We strive to be respectful of all students of all cultures and races. We are going to continue to look into what happened but we want people to understand that we do not believe in racism in any way.”

The Montana High School Association said Monday that it had been made aware of the incident, but was leaving any action up to Columbia Falls High School.

“They are dealing with the situation and dealing with it appropriately,” MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman said.

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