Columbia Falls High School fired public address announcer Jerry Smalley after a comment he made while announcing the Browning girls’ basketball team in Columbia Falls Thursday (Jan. 16) .
Smalley referred to the Lady Indians as the “Lazy” Indians when he introduced them at the beginning of the game.
In light of the comment, the Hungry Horse News has also decided to no longer run Smalley’s fishing column in the newspaper and has severed ties with Smalley.
“While we appreciate Smalley’s insights into the world of fishing, his comment was unacceptable and reflects badly on the newspaper. The Hungry Horse News has always had an excellent relationship with the Blackfeet Tribe and its peoples for more than 70 years. That relationship cannot be compromised,” said Hungry Horse News editor Chris Peterson.
There were several hundred people in attendance at the game.
In a letter dated Jan. 17, Columbia Falls principal Scott Gaiser told Browning superintendent Corrina Guardipee-Hall of the dismissal and apologized. Gaiser and Superintendent Steve Bradshaw also called her and apologized as well.
“Though he was acting on his own, we understand that the word the announcer used reflects poorly on our school and community,” Gaiser wrote. “We are extremely embarrassed and remorseful.”
“Following the game (Smalley) directly apologized to Browning High School’s head girls basketball coach, Raymond Augare. He stated that his use of the word “lazy” … was an unintended blunder and takes responsibility for his actions.”
Gaiser does not identify Smalley in the letter, but two Hungry Horse News staffers that were at the game both heard the comment.
Gaiser’s letter went on to explain that despite the intent, Smalley has been terminated from all future activities at Columbia Falls High School.
Both letters were posted on Facebook Saturday.
The incident comes less than a year after a Columbia Falls fan held a sign that read, “FTI” at a division tournament game against Browning. That led to an outreach by the Columbia Falls girls’ basketball team, which stopped by Browning High School on its way to state and gave the team gifts.
Gaiser referenced that incident in his letter.
“In light of an incident last year, we recognize that there is a great deal of work to be done to reestablish your trust and continue the positive relationship with the students and staff at Browning High School that we have enjoyed for many years,” he wrote.
Guardipee-Hall acknowledged the apology in a letter dated Jan. 18 to Browning’s school board, staff and community.
“As highly inappropriate, insensitive and inexcusable as the incident was in Columbia Falls, we want to ensure that we rise above this and commit to showing… the utmost of our respect, civility and sportsmanship today because that’s who we are!” Guardipee-Hall wrote.
“We want to keep our focus on the youth and continue being positive role models for our students.”
The Columbia Falls boys played Browning on Saturday in Browning without incident, Columbia Falls coach Chris Finberg said.
Gaiser said the hope in the future is to build on friendships with the Blackfeet through the adversity of the incident. Since Browning joined the Northwest A Conference several years ago, the two teams have become enjoyable rivals, particularly in basketball.
The games draw large crowds. Even after Smalley’s gaff Thursday night, the crowd was loud, but cordial, in what turned out to be the most competitive game on Columbia Falls’ gym floor this season.