Coach resigns, calls canceled season unfair

Prior to the school board’s vote on whether to allow the Park View High School varsity boys basketball season to continue, head coach Brian Sykes addressed the team’s supporters and others in the meeting room.
He called the school board’s initial decision to suspend the remainder of the season in response to players being involved in a fight in the stands at Brunswick High School Dec. 17 an “overreaction” and said, “Hopefully they’ll look at it through the eyes of a mistake and allow the season to continue.”
After the school board upheld its decision to cancel the season in a unanimous vote, Sykes resigned as coach and said canceling the season is unfair for a number of reasons, including that six team members, including one senior with the opportunity to play college basketball, were not identified as being involved in the fight.
“Is it fair that this kid didn’t do anything and his season is canceled?” Sykes asked. “He never got up out of his seat.”
Further, Sykes questioned if 13 of the 14 players on the team being black factored into the decision.
“If it were the baseball or the softball team, would it be the same thing?” he asked. “I’d like to think it wasn’t a race issue, but it looks like a race issue. That’s how it feels.”
Sykes said he and others with the team were bothered by the reaction to the South Hill Enterprise’s initial online reports that the school board had canceled the remainder of the season, which were viewed more than 40,000 times.
He said there was a racial divide in the ensuing comments, with white commenters mostly supporting the school board’s decision, while the team drew much of its support for continuing the season in the black community.
Some commenters made disparaging comments about the players, calling them “thugs.”
Sykes, who is superintendent of a prison, said this team was about much more than basketball. He said there have been times when he looks across the table at a player who doesn’t know where his next meal will come from, while some players have never been out of South Hill aside from attending basketball games, tournaments and camps.
“It’s way more than basketball, what I do,” he said. “It’s about trying to change mentality of a kid and letting them know that even though they may be underprivileged, there are still opportunities for them. But these young men, they’ll remember this incident for the rest of their lives. When you’re willing to throw black kids out to the wolves, do you really care? This is our school board. Do they really care?
“At the end of the day, I stand behind these guys right here. I put 125 percent in with them on and off the court, and they threw them under the bus like this was the worst thing that ever happened.”
Sykes said the actual confrontation, which occurred in the stands as Brunswick played Petersburg in the nightcap of the Bulldog Classic holiday tournament, was over within a matter of seconds. He said some of the eight Park View players identified as being involved in the incident didn’t throw any punches but were implicated for their location in proximity to the fight.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got 14-18-year-old kids who made a mistake,” Sykes said. “But we’ve all made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes.”
Sykes said the team had state championship aspirations and was Park View’s best varsity boys basketball team since 1991. Coming off a state quarterfinals appearance last season, the Dragons had gotten off to an 8-1 start to the season.
Sykes said the move to cancel the season was unprecedented and cited multiple fights and other incidents that have occurred surrounding Park View athletic events and teams in the past 30 or so years without the season being canceled.
He was actually involved in one. He said in 1993 with the football team off to a 5-0 start, he and nine other players shared a single beer between school letting out and the start of football activities. All 10 were suspended for the duration of the season.
“But the season went on,” Sykes said.
He also disputed school leaders’ assertion that if they didn’t take the action canceling the season, that the Virginia High School League would have. He said he spoke to the VHSL representative present at Wednesday’s meeting and had the impression the VHSL would not have canceled the season.