By BETH SLOVIC and PETER D'AURIA
Portland parents say the varsity boys' basketball coach at Lincoln High School accused junior varsity players of being racists, then humiliated two black schoolmates during a halftime tirade.
A complaint filed by four Lincoln parents says coach Pat Adelman wanted Lincoln's white players to compete more aggressively in a Jan. 12 game against their black opponents at Jefferson High School. In an expletive-filled rant, he allegedly called the Lincoln JV players "racists" and afraid to touch black students, then pulled two black students into the locker room and demanded the white players touch them.
"Does that make you like black people now?" Adelman allegedly asked the players.
The allegations, accusing Adelman of objectifying the two black Lincoln students who were reportedly thrust in front of the team, are outlined in a complaint sent Jan. 14 to Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith and obtained by WW this week.
The complaint, signed initially by three parents who were later joined by a fourth, called on Smith to fire Adelman, son of former Trail Blazers coach Rick Adelman.
Adelman did not respond to requests for comment. This is his first year at Lincoln. He previously coached basketball for one year at Thurston High School in the Springfield School District.
For Smith, the situation presents no easy answers.
Now in her ninth school year as superintendent, Smith has made overcoming racial barriers in education a top priority at PPS. That's meant lots of extra focus on improving high-school graduation rates for students of color and trying to eliminate racial disparities in student discipline, for example.
But it's also meant encouraging frank conversations among school communities about race and discrimination—even when those conversations have gone haywire and sparked parents' outrage. Smith has, for instance, publicly defended black and Latina school principals who've angered parents with their decisions, attributing white parents' concerns to racist attitudes and discomfort with the principals' provocative language decrying white privilege.
But in this case, the complaint comes from someone Smith can't easily ignore. Laurie Wimmer is the parent of one of the black Lincoln students put in front of players at halftime. She is also a longtime lobbyist for the powerful statewide teachers' union, the Oregon Education Association.
After Wimmer heard the story of Adelman's actions, she did what most parents couldn't do—she called Smith directly.
"When it is brought to the attention of a student of color that they are considered by the white world to be 'outsiders,' as Coach Adelman did in this outrageous act, that is something that cannot be undone," Wimmer and two other Lincoln mothers wrote to Smith in the Jan. 14 complaint. "Forever after [the students] will be, to their teammates and in their own eyes, 'black' and 'other.' Not 'Lincoln students.'"
At halftime on Tuesday, Jan. 12, Lincoln's junior varsity squad trailed by 15 points against Jefferson, a top team in the Portland Interscholastic League. The complaint says Adelman, who's not the JV coach, burst into the locker room, berated players and told them they were losing because they were "afraid to touch black students."
Adelman, 28, then singled out two black players, one from the Lincoln varsity team and one from the freshman squad, and demanded that the JV players touch them. Adelman then allegedly questioned the JV players about whether they had any black friends.
"Well, do you keep a flashlight handy when you have sleepovers with them?" he allegedly asked the players.
Adelman is not the first Lincoln coach to come under fire.
In 2009, PPS fired varsity football coach Chad Carlson after he refused to resign following a drunken confrontation with Portland Police on a MAX platform. Lincoln that year also lost its baseball coach, Michael Todd, who resigned following a spring-break trip to San Francisco, where he visited a strip club with three of his players.
A third Lincoln coach also made headlines in 2009: Pat Adelman's older brother David, then Lincoln's boys' varsity basketball coach.
Portland Police arrested David Adelman for driving under the influence of alcohol after a private investigator hired by a disgruntled parent of a player tracked Adelman and called 911.
David Adelman kept his job, although it was his second DUII arrest. (His sister Kathryn Adelman Naro wasn't so lucky. She resigned from her job as the girls' basketball coach at Jesuit High School in 2009 after her second DUII arrest.)
Jeff Peeler, Lincoln's athletic director, referred questions to the district's public affairs office.
PPS spokesman Jon Isaacs, in turn, declined to answer questions or make Smith available for an interview.
"This is an ongoing investigation," Isaacs wrote in an email, "and we cannot comment at this time."
The parents who complained about Pat Adelman declined to comment for this story. But WW also obtained a follow-up email that outlines a chronology of the school's investigation.
In the timeline, Wimmer writes that she received a letter Jan. 22, saying Adelman had been reinstated after six days of paid leave and that PPS would hold a "restorative justice meeting" at Lincoln.
"Something about getting Adelman some sort of training was also vaguely implied," she writes.