Hoopa Valley Tribal Councilmember Vivienna Orcutt said the strangest thing about the altercation that took place last night following a high school basketball game in Colusa County — an altercation that sent a beloved tribal elder to the hospital — was how it seemed to come out of nowhere.
The Hoopa High Warriors had just lost a frustrating tournament game at Pierce High in Arbuckle when, according to Orcutt, an adult man approached her nephew, Hoopa senior Dennis Young, got within inches of his face and proceeded to yell at him.
That man, multiple people would later tell Orcutt, was Pierce High School Principal Dr. David Vujovich.
“There was no exchange going on, nothing going on,” Orcutt said. “That’s the most ironic, crazy thing about it.”
According to Orcutt, most of the Hoopa High supporters and players were in the process of leaving, knowing they had a long and treacherous drive home in stormy weather. But a few people, including Young, were lingering in a foyer near one of the gym’s two sets of double doors.
Vujovich, she said, walked directly up to Young.
“He was telling him he needed to grow up, and Dennis was shaking his head and blinking because [Vujovich] was inches from his face,” Orcutt said. “Like he was manufacturing a conflict with him. He was instigating. … That was the crazy thing about it.”
Young’s father, Eric, told the Outpost that Principal Vujovich had actually gotten in the face of another Hoopa High player first and even invited a student to step outside.
”Then he walked into my son’s face,” Eric Young said. “I walked up and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I’m not sure what he was saying to my son, but I let him know he needed to get out of my son’s face.”
After a bit of back-and-forth, Vujovich walked away, Young said. Young’s son later told him about Vujovich’s “grow up” comment. “We were wondering, what’s going on?” Eric Young said.
Up to that point, no one had been hurt. But when people began rushing back into the gym from outside, hoping to see the altercation, Vujovich apparently decided to leave the gym.
“That’s when he started to bolt,” Orcutt said. “He was pushing people. He pushed over Bud.”
Eighty-three-year-old Walter “Bud” Gray is a treasured tribal elder, Orcutt said, and he never misses a Hoopa High game. Video shot by a Hoopa High student captures the moment Gray was knocked to the floor. You don’t see his fall — nor can you tell who pushed him down. But if you have the volume up you can hear him hit the gym floor:
Orcutt said she and others consider this an assault, and they’re frustrated that deputies with the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t appear to detain or question Vujovich. But they did detain at least two young men from Hoopa. One was a high school student and the other had recently graduated, according to Young.
In chaos that followed the initial confrontation, students from both schools got into their own fracas, drawing the attention of law enforcement officials who arrived on scene, Orcutt said.
Emotions were running high due, at least in part, to frustration over the game’s officiating. The Warriors were ahead in the second half, but Hoopa fans say some questionable calls from the referees helped Pierce High come back and win.
“The foul count in the fourth quarter was 12 to one — 12 fouls called on Hoopa and just one against [Pierce],” Young said. “It was brutal, man.”
After his fall, “Bud” Gray was helped back to the bleachers, where he remained seated for several minutes. He was later fitted with a neck brace and taken to a local hospital, where he received x-rays, a CT-scan and other tests.
Orcutt said Gray was released this morning and arrived at his son’s home in Ukiah around 7 a.m. According to Facebook posts from relatives, Gray is “really sore” but suffered no broken bones. Orcutt said he had a lump the size of a softball on his hip.
Gray’s son, Walter, told the Outpost that his dad “messed up his neck” and suffered contusions on his head and hip.
“We just couldn’t believe that this happened at a basketball game,” Walter Gray said. He added that his parents definitely know that it was Vujovich who knocked Bud down.
The Outpost reached out to Pierce High School, hoping to talk to Principal Vujovich. Instead we were referred to district Superintendent Carol Geyer, who said the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident.
“It’s an ongoing investigation, so I’m not at liberty to speak about it at this time,” Geyer said.
The Sheriff’s Office told the Outpost that it will issue a press release about the incident later today.
Upset Hoopa fans, including Eric Young, have contacted the Northern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation to ask that Pierce High forfeit the game due to the refereeing and the principal’s behavior.
“I don’t know what the guy’s deal was,” Young said. “He was, like, amped up. I thought he was going to get into a physical altercations with [one student]. And this was the same person who was announcing at the beginning of the game, and at halftime, that we need to have sportsmanship.”
Orcutt said she mostly just hopes that Gray recovers. Asked if she thinks he’ll still try to attend every Warriors game, Orcutt said, “I’m sure that he’ll probably be fearful. And that saddens me the most, to have somebody who enjoys attending sporting events, to have him be assaulted. That’s sad to me.”
Young is hoping that recordings of the game will lead the California Interscholastic Federation to take corrective action for what he sees as prejudiced officiating. “I will say that the calls, [prejudice] definitely has something to do with it, with the kids being native.”
Walter Gray agreed. “It gets a little old,” he said. “Those kids are out there laying their hearts on the line trying to make it happen, and to come up against — the only thing I can call it is racism. People think we’re crying around about nothing real, but when you see your guys get bloodied and nothing [no fouls] called, you get upset.”
He recalled a play from last night in which a Hoopa player got pushed to the ground, and no foul was called. Nor was the game stopped when the player couldn’t get back up, Gray said. The team had to call a time out.
“It was like, ‘Really?’ What planet does this stuff happen on?” Gray said. “It’s almost like they don’t see us as humans. But that’s not really our point. This mob mentality they had there was just shocking to us. And we’ve seen a lot. We’re from Hoopa! But that’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Gray plans to reach out to the district superintendent. “We’ll give them a fair shot to make things right,” he said, noting that his father will likely have extensive medical bills as a result of the incident.
The Warriors often face unfair officiating at away games and tournaments, Young said. “It’s the way the world is, man,” he said. The Warriors players are feeling “deflated” after yesterday’s events, according to Young.
“It was just a big mess down there, man,” he said.
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Note: This post has been updated from its original version to include quotes from Walter Gray.