MISSOULA – The University of Montana will continue its support of social justice and equity when the men’s basketball team plays in a tournament this weekend presented by Coaches vs. Racism, a national nonprofit organization that brings awareness to systemic racism, social injustice and reform.

The Coaches vs. Racism Roundball Classic, held in Houston, features several teams playing against Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Montana will face Prairie View A&M at 10:50 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. Other games include the University of Houston vs. North Carolina A&M and Texas Tech University vs. Jackson State. The games will air online at hbcugo.tv.

“It’s an opportunity for coaches, universities and programs to make a statement that they are fighting the fight against racism,” said Travis DeCuire, UM’s men’s basketball coach. “It starts a conversation.”

Last year was the inaugural Coaches vs. Racism tournament and it featured national powers Duke University and University of Michigan against Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Since college basketball fans don’t often see those matchups, especially on a neutral court in the middle of the season, it raised the questions of why and how it came about. That is the same goal this year, DeCuire said.

“It presents a conversation similar to Coaches vs. Cancer, when everyone wants to know why you have on pink shoes or why you are wearing tennis shoes with a suit,” DeCuire said. “The answer is its coaches making a stand against cancer and really bringing awareness to the situation. It’s the same thing with Coaches vs. Racism.”

Following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murder by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck in May 2020, DeCuire spoke about his experience as a Black man in a predominantly white community and the importance of people with different backgrounds and ethnicities communicating and having positive experiences.

“The positive interaction you have with one another creates a feeling of comfort that later counters the racial tension we all think takes place so often. And it does take place very often. But I think the positive interactions are what get you through it,” DeCuire said.

The Montana men’s basketball team took a leadership role on campus last year when it created and filled a Diversity Education Library. The team stocked the free library with anti-racism and minority-themed literature, either purchased by the team or donated from their personal collections.

“The library is a big deal for us,” DeCuire said. “We wanted to make a stand against racism. But we wanted to do that in a way that would be accepted and would be long lasting and that’s where the library came in.”

DeCuire said he feels the support from the University and athletic department when making these efforts against systemic racism and inequality. When the Diversity Education Library was unveiled, UM President Seth Bodnar placed a book inside.

“Anyone on this campus is going to walk right by that library every day,” DeCuire said. “It never hurts when the president of the University shows up and puts a book in that library along with us.”

The University also is making strides with its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, which aims to identify any equity gaps in the institution and flag policies and practices that contribute to those gaps.

All of these efforts are important when recruiting minority students academically and athletically to the University, DeCuire said. And participating in the Coaches vs. Racism Roundball Classic is another step in showing that support.

“For the University of Montana, participating in something like this and being supported by administrators and leaders on this campus is going to be beneficial not only for the minority student athlete on the campus but also for anyone considering going to the University,” DeCuire said.


- by Kyle Spurr, UM News Service -

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