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Sparring or fighting? Swain high schoolers suspended for unsanctioned “fight club”

Swain County School administrators began an internal investigation Friday after videos surfaced of a “fight club” among ninth grade boys in the gym locker room at Swain County High School.

Cell phone videos show the teens using boxing gloves, and sometimes their fists, to hit each other. Boys, two or three at a time, wrestled on the floor and took swings at one another in the locker room when they were supposed to be changing clothes after their physical education class.

The videos became viral among Swain high school students and eventually landed in the hands of school administrators, who then used them to find boys involved in the “fight club.” As of press time Tuesday, the school had suspended nine students, all ninth graders, for 10 days.

It is unknown if the school system will take disciplinary action against any other students or staff.

“We have an internal investigation going on of both students and staff,” said Steve Claxton, a spokesman for the school system. The inquiry will continue “as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.”

However, the investigation could take a while if people refuse to talk.

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“The kids are being very closed lipped about it,” Claxton said.

It is unclear how the boys had time to hold bouts when students are supposed to get only five to seven minutes to change before their next class. Claxton would not say if the kids were supervised, or were supposed to be watched by an adult, during that time.

One of the suspended students, ninth grader Josh Hampton told television news station WLOS that the physical education teacher that period, David Outlaw, knew about the fighting and told the boys not to take videos or else he would get in trouble. Hampton also told WLOS that the fights had been going on for a month.

High school administrators in a statement Friday denied that any staff members knew about the boys’ fights. But Claxton modified the comment Monday, stating “All we can say is that school personnel that we have interviewed said that they did not know about it.”

When reached by phone, Outlaw, who is also the high school soccer coach, apologized for not being able to comment, saying that the school was handling the press on the issue.

Although Hampton spoke on WLOS, when asked for comment, Hampton’s mother, Sharon, said they weren’t doing any more media interviews.

However, she commented on Facebook in defense of her son.

“My son was suspended... They were not fighting ... They were boys being boys boxing.. NOT FIGHTING... This is being blown way out of proportion as usual,” Sharon Hampton wrote in her post.

Two camps have emerged in conversations on social media sites about the story: those who feel the boys were way out of line and those who view the organized, friendly sparring as a legitimate sport, albeit unsanctioned by the school.

Former superintendent and current county commissioner, Robert White, said he was shocked to hear about the “fight club” at the high school.

“It’s disturbing that this situation has occurred,” White said.

But White said, at first glance, the situation may be portrayed as worse than it was.

“It is going to take more than a little effort to get to the bottom of this,” White said. “I am not saying that this is exaggerated, but it is possible.”

White said he is confident the current superintendent and the high school principal will look into the matter and take proper disciplinary action against those involved.

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