Middle school girls hoops player benched for a game for saying ‘I love you’ in native language

Cameron Smith
March 1, 2012

A unique language controversy has led to a wide-ranging apology from the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay after a middle school girls basketball player at Shawano (Wis.) Sacred Heart School was reprimanded in class and kept out of one of her team's games because she told her friends "I love you," in the tongue of her family's Native American tribe.

As reported by the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Associated Press and Green Bay NBC affiliate WGBA, among other sources, Sacred Heart seventh-grader Miranda Washinawatok was disciplined in class in front of her peers and then held out of a January basketball game because she had the temerity to tell two of her classmates "I love you" in the language native to the Menominee tribe, of which the Washinawatoks are a part.

When Washinawatok used the phrase in a class to two of her friends who she had taught it to, one of her teachers -- Julie Gurta -- reportedly threw her hands down on her table angrily and said that Washinawatok would not be allowed to speak in the Menominee language because doing so would keep the teacher from knowing what she was saying.

"She sort of threw her hands down on her desk and said don't be talking like that," Washinawatok told WGBA of her teacher's reaction to the Menominee language. "How would you like it if I started talking Polish?"

The point, of course, is that Washinawatok wouldn't stop her teacher from speaking in Polish if it didn't distract from class. Similarly, Washinawatok's mother, Tanaes Washinawatok, is lobbying for Gurta to be fired after a letter that allegedly served as an apology from Gurta instead read more as an accusation of Miranda Washinawatok's guilt.

"Unfortunately, the actions of your daughter were not brought to your attention as quickly as they should have been, and for this I apologize," Gurta wrote, according to the Press-Gazette.

Meanwhile, assistant girls basketball coach Billie Jo DuQuaine, principal Dan Minter and the Green Bay diocese's director of education, Joseph Bound, all also offered up apologies to the Washinawatoks, all of which seem to have been well received, with the exception of Gurta's letter. The Green Bay diocese also issued a more broad apology to the entire Menominee nation on Tuesday.

"It is our hope that with greater awareness, we can begin to repair any harm that has been caused, and be able to build new and improved relationships," Bound wrote in the diocese's statement.

The diocese has also reportedly acknowledged a need for greater diversity training in its ranks, a need which is only heightened by the large proportion of Native American students who make up a majority of the students at Sacred Heart.

It certainly sounded like that commitment to future diversity would be welcomed by the elder Washinawatok.

"I'm not going to let anybody tell me they can't speak that language," Tanaes Washinawatok told WGBA.

Want more on the best stories in high school sports? Visit RivalsHigh or connect with Prep Rally on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Prep basketball powerhouse may be moved to separate bracket
Adidas brings Sambas back ... for golfers
Y! TV: Khloe Kardashian didn't like Kris Humphries from the start