Canceled Park View season upheld on appeal
After hearing an appeal from players and parents of the Park View High School varsity boys basketball team, the Mecklenburg County School Board by unanimous vote on Wednesday upheld its decision to suspend the school’s varsity basketball program for the duration of the school year.
The initial vote came on Dec. 19, two days after officials say eight of 14 members of the Park View team were involved in a fight in the stands of Brunswick High School after winning a game in the Bulldog Classic holiday tournament.
The entire Park View team along with a number of family members and supporters attended Wednesday’s appeal, which took place in closed session. Parent LaTasha House said the team’s supporters argued that the penalty was “too harsh, that the punishment did not fit the crime.”
However, school board chair Brent Richey said by its unanimous vote following the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols to uphold the suspension of the season, the board made a strong statement about how current and future athletic teams are expected to represent Mecklenburg County Public Schools.
“Even after having time to think about it, it’s not just these young men, but it’s every team after this and the way that they are expected to behave,” he said. “It was an awful decision to have to make. I was disappointed as a fan. But we couldn’t let it pass by, because there’s another governing body following right behind us.”
Richey said the Virginia High School League indicated to Nichols that the governing body would take action regarding the incident if the school system did not.
After the meeting, a representative of the VHSL in attendance, Tom Dolan, indicated the governing body would not take further action.
“There’s no need for any further action,” he said. “They made their decision.”
Nichols said he and other superintendents, principals and athletic directors have been put on notice by the VHSL that it plans to pursue a hard-line approach when it comes to incidents of poor sportsmanship surrounding the athletic events it sanctions.
“Part of the issue with the VHSL is that there’s too much of this happening around the state, and they’ve got to pull it back in,” Nichols said. “It’s mostly the individual schools’ responsibility, but they are also responsible to try to pull things in.”
However, Nichols said it was clear to him that the school board did not come to its decision based on the threat of VHSL action.
“There are some responsibilities and consequences as a team that have to be reestablished, good sportsmanship and what not, that we have to recoup,” he said.
The incident occurred as Brunswick played Petersburg in the tournament nightcap after a majority of the Park View players and others got up from where they were sitting, exited the gym, reentered on the other side and climbed the bleachers to an area of the gym where the Brunswick band and students traditionally sit. Within a minute, a confrontation occurred between the Park View group and a group of Brunswick fans inhabiting the reasonably empty section of the gym.
Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts said juvenile petitions for disorderly conduct were filed against four Park View High School students and one Brunswick High School student as a result of the incident. He indicated Friday morning law enforcement does not plan any further action.
Following the appeal, Richey said “it seemed like some of them are such nice guys” of the players but reiterated the school board’s understanding that, regardless of who threw the first punch, the fight was initiated by Park View players.
“Unfortunately it was initiated by our team,” Richey said. “This was all initiated when they got up and went over there. I feel pretty confident that if they had not gotten up and gone over there, we would not be here tonight. That started it. There was a lot of discussion about everything that followed that, but I think we can all agree that if the team did not go over there like they did, then we wouldn’t be here.”
Nichols rejected the assertion made by members of the public on social media and elsewhere that any of the players involved are “thugs,” or that the school system considers them as such.
“There’s been a charge that these students are considered to be thugs, and that’s not true,” he said. “We don’t believe any of these children are thugs. They’re our future.”
However, he said the incident is reflective of what business and industry leaders in general say of today’s youths, that they’re not graduating from high school with an understanding of their responsibilities.
“They’re saying that our children, and that’s a general statement, are not coming out of school today, an environment that’s been focusing on testing and just getting a high school degree, with an understanding of being a member of a team and responsibilities that go along with it, being responsible to the community, the employer,” Nichols said. “This is just a part of it. We’ve got to start dealing more with dress codes, that’s been an issue this year, we’ve got to start dealing more with issues of tardiness and absenteeism, and the changes at the state level related to accountability and going beyond the SOLs.”