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Racial remarks alleged to be cause of fight at Polk/N. Buncombe game

Polk men’s basketball team forfeits game early

COLUMBUS – The Polk County men’s basketball game against North Buncombe on Wednesday night, Dec. 13 ended at halftime with Polk County forfeiting the game following an altercation involving students.

Polk County Schools’ Superintendent Aaron Greene said the school system is aware of an incident and related events that took place at the varsity men’s basketball game, held at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, N.C.

“An altercation involving students occurred and was handled quickly,” Greene said Thursday. “School officials elected to suspend play and end the game before the second half. School and district administration from North Buncombe and Polk High are working together to investigate the matter thoroughly.

“Once the investigation is complete we are confident appropriate action will be taken. Polk County Schools and its staff members have always been and will continue to be committed to the safety and well-being of all our students.”

Spectators from Polk County have said there were racial remarks made by North Buncombe students and Facebook has several posts responding to the event.

A petition was started by Rashawn Cunningham titled “Ban on sports for North Buncombe High in NC.”

Cunningham said his son’s team went to North Buncombe Wednesday night.

“My son’s team went to North Buncombe last night and the crowd started saying racial slurs and had ropes tied into nooses. They even punched one of our junior varsity players. The men’s varsity game was ended at half time, but more needs to be done to protect players and punish this school and their fans. The school should be banned from taking part in any games until they clean house and get rid of racist people in their school and athletic programs,” states the petition.

As of Friday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m., the petition had 184 signatures. Cunningham said he plans to send the petition to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

The Bulletin has not yet been able to confirm the allegation that nooses were at the game.

Cunningham also held a Unity Movement in support of the students on Friday afternoon, Dec. 15 at Stearns Park in Columbus. Cunningham originally planned to hold the movement at Polk County High School but for the safety of students, non student-sponsored protests can be forced to be removed while school is in session.

Cunningham and a few other people participated in the movement with signs such as “Teach Our Kids To Be Better,” “Unite To Stop The Hate,” and “Kids Lives Matter.”

When Cunningham organized the movement on Facebook he said this will be a start to a change.

“We as the older generation have got to step up,” said Cunningham, “it’s now or never.”

Cunningham asked for the movement to be peaceful only.

The Wolverines played JV games, then the women’s varsity game and left before the third quarter began of the men’s game after a reported fight broke out between a North Buncombe and Polk County student. There are reports that racial comments were being made towards Polk players during the varsity men’s game prior to halftime.

The Bulletin contacted men’s head basketball coach Antoni Staley but had not heard back as of press time. Staley did respond to the game in a Facebook post late Thursday night, Dec. 14.

Staley wrote that the teams experienced some overwhelming drama and racism at the North Buncombe game.

“Just know it is being handled and many suspensions, charges (assault, hate crimes) and arrest will be made,” Staley wrote in his post. “I have seen a few post(s) and as most of you who have heard the news from different people, I’m full of emotions myself. I acted in the best reasonable way possible. I am not perfect, but I am a true believer in the love of Jesus Christ. I have no hate in my heart for those that speak negatively against me, my players or Polk County High.”

Staley continued to say he has no hate in his heart for North Buncombe’s fans, coaches, students or administrators and he considers the guys and girls of Polk County High as his kids.

“We cannot fight evil with evil,” Staley said. “Only love can fight evil. We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves.”

Staley also wrote that the administrators, Greene and principal Brandon Schweitzer are working hard to resolve issues and Staley has cried many tears along with his team not being able to ask simple questions, like why so much hatred and why are people racist in 2017.

“I made a call and we as a Polk County family moved those kids from the situation,” Staley said.

He asks for those who want to help to support Polk County Schools, to check on some of these students and to mentor some of them, not just when tragedy happens but all the time.

Staley also said he had read about 60 posts on Facebook speaking about the situation and most were untrue. He said he watched Polk’s white coaches hugging and holding black players while they sobbed and asked why people are racist and why they hated them.

The Bulletin also contacted North Buncombe High School principal Dr. Samantha Sircey.

North Buncombe sent the following statement:

“We can confirm that a North Buncombe student and a Polk student did get in an altercation in the concession area outside the gym during halftime of the varsity boys game this week, but the situation was handled swiftly and appropriately per school policy,” said North Buncombe’s release. “Both high schools and school systems are working together to interview students and staff members and are cooperatively looking into this incident.”

Greene said he could not say anything further until the investigation is complete.

The Bulletin has also reached out in an attempt to find witness accounts from Polk County residents who attended the game with no success as of Friday. Anyone who witnessed actions at the game and wishes to make a comment is urged to contact reporter Leah Justice at leah.justice@tryondailybulletin.com.