The 14-year-old Swain student sent nasty and vulgar messages over Facebook to an eighth grade Cherokee football player following a game at Cherokee, which Swain won, 32-0. The Swain player sent the two racially-loaded messages while he returned home on the school activity bus after the football game.
Swain County School officials suspended the player from school for 10 days and kicked him off the team for the rest of the season.
“This is not a representation of our school system nor of our student body. We do not condone this kind of behavior,” said Steve Claxton, a spokesperson for Swain County Schools.
Ironically, the Cherokee JV football player who was sent the messages is white. He is not Native American but grew up in Cherokee and attends school there.
Next-door neighbors, Swain and Cherokee are historic football rivals in the Smoky Mountain Conference.
Swain County Schools have a significant number of Cherokee students who choose to attend school in Swain instead of on the reservation. In fact, the student body at Swain High is roughly 40 percent Cherokee — making it the most diverse high school in Western North Carolina, Claxton confirmed.
Swain County Schools’ sports teams, including the varsity and JV football teams, have many players who are Cherokee.
Swain County Schools’ behavior policy calls on students to show “respect for cultural and ideological differences.” School policy prohibits harassment and bullying, including “name-calling, put-downs, derogatory comments and slurs,” and applies equally to written electronic communications.
Although the incident didn’t occur during the school day, school policies still apply during school-sanctioned events, including being transported on a school activity bus.
A minor violation of student conduct codes, which prohibit “insulting and disrespectful language,” can carry a punishment of short-term suspension of up to 10 days, according to school policy.
Students who violate conduct and behavior codes can also be excluded from participating in school sports and other extracurricular activities under Swain school policy.
A year later, Tuscola football player charged with cross-burning still playing
A Tuscola varsity football player charged with felony cross-burning in the yard of a bi-racial student remains on the team more than a year after the incident, pending the case coming to trial.
Ben Greene, 17, played for Tuscola’s football as recently as Friday night. His continued presence on the field is dismaying to some in the community and has been the source of a few complaints to the school system during the past year.
However, Haywood County School officials say they are following the policies they have on the books. Greene’s case has not yet been heard in court. When it does — and if he is ultimately found guilty — he would be expelled from school as a convicted felon and thus would be off the football team.
But for now, Greene’s case has been postponed every time it’s come up in court.
Greene had to sit out two games at the start of last year’s season, per school policy governing conduct of students in sports or in other extracurricular activities. Specifically, student athletes charged with a crime have to sit out for 20 percent of the games in a season and do 25 hours of community service for a first offense.
“The whole rationale is you hold your student athletes to a higher standard because they are representing your school,” said Haywood Schools Superintendent Anne Garrett.
In Swain County, a football player was recently kicked off the team for sending racially derogatory messages to a Cherokee football player via Facebook. That incident occurred during a school-sponsored event, however, giving the school system in Swain more leeway to take disciplinary action. In Haywood County, the cross-burning allegation against a football player occurred off school property and outside any school-sanctioned activity.
Greene was one of four Tuscola students charged with a felony hate crime following the incident in May 2012. A homemade wooden cross wrapped in a gasoline soaked T-shirt was lit in the yard of a house where a bi-racial student was spending the night with a friend.
The other three students have all been convicted with guilty pleas. Greene’s case has been delayed every time it has been on the court schedule.
Greene is currently a senior. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 16, meaning he will be allowed to play football the entire season.
— By Becky Johnson