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North Buncombe, Polk County principals issue joint statement on game incident

On Monday, December 18, News 13 spoke to a parent who said that his stepson plays on the Polk County men's varsity basketball team, and witnessed North Buncombe supporters yelling racial slurs from the stands. (Photo: WLOS staff)

On Tuesday the principals of North Buncombe High School and Polk County High School issued a joint statement on an incident that happened at a North Buncombe men's varsity basketball game on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.

The statement from Samantha Sircey of North Buncombe High School and Brandon Schweitzer of Polk Co. High School says that administrators have "diligently" investigated reports of inappropriate behavior at the game, ended the investigation, and disciplined three North Buncombe students for "inappropriate conduct during the varsity basketball game in the gym and in the concession area."

The principals did not specify what the inappropriate behavior was.

On Saturday, a school official confirmed that there was an altercation at the game, which Polk County forfeited to North Buncombe at half-time, after which both teams went home.

On Monday, December 18, News 13 spoke to a parent who said that his stepson plays on the Polk County men's varsity basketball team, and witnessed North Buncombe supporters yelling racial slurs from the stands.

“From the time they stepped into the gym, they were being taunted,” Cunningham, who says he spoke at length with his son and parents of other players, said. “Some of the fans in the stands were calling them the n-word, some of the fans were making the gestures (as if they had) nooses.”

To be clear, Cunningham said no one in the stands had a noose in their hands. But he said his stepson saw North Buncombe supporters making a gesture with their fist in the air pumping above their heads, as if they were pulling nooses, and directing the gesture toward Polk players.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene told News 13 on Monday that the school had postponed men's varsity basketball games "in the wake of incidents last week involving the Polk County men’s basketball team in games at North Buncombe and Landrum."

There is a video circulating on Facebook of an alleged altercation involving a Polk senior who was arrested at the Landrum game last Friday. But the video is grainy, making it hard to definitively see who was involved in the argument on the hardwood.

The receptionist who answered the phone at the Landrum Police Department on Monday appeared to be aware of the student's arrest, but said the office would not be commenting.

Arrests are public record. A request for a call from the police chief was not returned Monday.

Polk County High basketball coach Antoni Staley wrote on his Facebook page that his players experienced racism at the North Buncombe game, stating he expected multiple arrests and disciplinary action. But Staley removed the post from Facebook on Monday, and would not comment further to News 13.

Cunningham said he realizes Staley is in a difficult position, working for the school. He said he understands why there may be pressure on Staley not to speak candidly about what he witnessed at the game, but Cunningham said he wants school administrators to release details and facts related to both games, including credible witnesses.

"We want to know what's going on," Cunningham said. “We don't just want to be told, 'We're handling it, or we're investigating it,’ because, we don't believe you.”

The full statement the administrators released on Monday is below:

Administrators at North Buncombe High School and Polk Co. High School have worked together diligently to investigate reports of inappropriate behavior at the varsity men's basketball game on December 13. We have received many questions from our parents and members of the community about a number of rumors that are circulating relative to what actually transpired at the game.
North Buncombe administrators, the School Resource Officer (SRO), and Polk Co. administrators have concluded the investigation into the matter. Three North Buncombe students have been disciplined for inappropriate conduct during the varsity basketball game in the gym and in the concession area. NBHS and PCHS have high expectations for our students and fans, and we are disappointed by the inappropriate behavior displayed during this game and at halftime. This incident has been handled jointly by both school systems, and we look forward to moving ahead in a positive direction. Please contact your respective principal with further questions or concerns.
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