‘Don’t talk about our kids that way’

Forest City radio employees fired after racist remarks target Eagle Grove student athletes in video feed

EAGLE GROVE — Two employees of a Forest City radio station have been fired after a dialogue of racist comments made during a Forest City versus Eagle Grove boys basketball game were broadcast on a video feed that appeared on a school website and was later shared with thousands on social media.

Orin Harris, a KIOW radio play-by-play announcer, and Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt, a producer for KIOW Radio, made the comments about Eagle Grove players on Nov. 28.

Jess Toliver, Eagle Grove Community School District superintendent, said diversity in Eagle Grove has been positive.

“The main thing to remember here is, diversity has made us the community we are and the school district we are,” he said. “It has been very positive for both our school district and community. It has kept our school stable with enrollment. It has helped our city, helped our community. It has put us in a position for growth with Prestage coming to town.”

He said Eagle Grove students deserve to be treated with respect in any community.

“We are proud of all of our students,” he said. “We are proud of how they act in the classroom, on the field.”

He added, “When they go play in another place, we think all of our students and all of our athletes deserve respect, and we don’t think that was shown in this situation.”

Nikolas Padilla, one of the athletes, said on Twitter late Monday: “Thank you everyone for your sympathy. I am proud to be Hispanic and of my background and culture. I don’t want Mr. Harris to be known for his devastating remarks. …”

After Darwin Lehmann, superintendent of the Forest City Community School District, learned of the offensive comments, Toliver said he was contacted “immediately.”

“That same night by 10 p.m. I had a phone conversation,” Toliver said. “He told me he had a concern that some derogatory statements had been made on the radio. He took the broadcast down until we could look into it further. By 10:50 p.m. I was on the phone with him and their radio station manager. We agreed to talk about it further when we had more information.”

He said many people at Eagle Grove schools were upset with the situation.

“The main thing is when you hear statements like this about your school, your friends, your community, everyone gets upset immediately,” he said. “And rightfully so.”

He said students deserve better.

“Somebody said they shouldn’t talk about our kids that way,” he said. “They are right. It doesn’t matter who the kids are, what race they are, where they come from. Don’t talk about our kids that way. They don’t deserve it.”

KIOW announced the firing of both employees through a written statement on its website Monday.

It reads, “On Tuesday, November 28th, two employees of KIOW made comments that were insensitive, thoughtless and degrading to others. These comments were deplorable, and the staff and management of KIOW in no way condones or supports these comments.

“These comments never aired on KIOW Radio. They did, however, appear on a video feed that appeared on a school website.

“That night when we learned of these comments, we were in contact with the Eagle Grove School District and gathered information about the incident. On Thursday morning, Nov. 30, a letter of apology was sent to school officials, along with details of our actions in regards to the two employees involved.

“As a result, both employees have been fired from their positions with the station.

“KIOW Radio has a long history of promoting and supporting student athletes, coaches and schools. As a company, we take great pride in spotlighting the great efforts of our local citizens, schools and communities, and we will demand that all company employees adhere to this policy.”

Harris had been an announcer for 35 years. Kusserow-Smidt also teaches in the Forest City Community School District. According to a statement from the school, she has been placed on administrative leave there.

One comment from Kusserow-Smidt seemed to take aim at the incoming Prestage Foods of Iowa pork processing plant being constructed five miles south of Eagle Grove.

The $250 million facility will process 10,000 hogs a day when it opens in November 2018.

More than 1,000 workers are to be employed there within the first year of operations.

An economic impact study conducted by Goss & Associates Economic Solutions, of Omaha and Denver, Colorado, earlier this year predicts about 30 percent of the Prestage workers will be foreign-born.

That study concluded that 43 percent of foreign-born Latino workers speak exclusively Spanish.

Transcript of the conversation

Below is a transcript of the Nov. 28 conversation between KIOW radio play-by-play announcer Orin Harris and KIOW radio producer Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt.

Harris: Oh not too bad, not the greatest. But we’ll get through it.

Kusserow-Smidt: You sound like nothing’s ever wrong.

Harris: Gonna get over early anyways. God, Eagle Grove girls.

Kusserow-Smidt: Oh my God, I don’t want to be on either end of this game.

Harris: Pathetic … pitiful. Let’s see, the first three names I got to remember are Enzo Gebara, Spencer Espejo, Nikolas Padilla, for Eagle Grove. They have a lot of very …

Kusserow-Smidt: Espanol people.

Harris: Espanol people in Eagle Grove.

Kusserow-Smidt: Gee, I wonder why that is.

Harris: I wonder why.

Kusserow-Smidt: But the latest there is that they are just going to gradually come into town. Yeah, right.

Harris: Yeah, uh huh.

Kusserow-Smidt: Uh huh.

Harris: Gradually work their way in.

Kusserow-Smidt: Gradually work their way in. So who are these people again?

Harris: Yeah, who are they? Oh, you want to know their names. Enzo Gebara, Spencer Espejo and Nikolas Padilla.

Kusserow-Smidt: Well they sound like they have been there a while given their first names.

Harris: I think they have been there. Padilla, I think is P-A-D-I-L-L-A.

Kusserow-Smidt: Yeah, Padilla.

Harris: Padilla, something like that.

Kusserow-Smidt: Yeah.

Harris: Then there is Chase Blasi. He sounds like he’s not a foreigner. He could be, though. They are all foreigners.

Kusserow-Smidt: Exactly — all foreigners. (laughs)

Harris: They oughta, as Trump would say, ‘go back where they came from.’

Kusserow-Smidt: Well, some would say that, yeah. Some days I feel like that too.

Harris: Yeah.

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