ALBEMARLE — Passions were high at the Oct. 4 Stanly County School Board meeting as the board announced the lifting of athletic probation for North Stanly High’s cheerleaders, who were given the punishment by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for posing for pictures with a “Trump 2020” flag during a football game.
Superintendent of Stanly County Schools Dr. Jeff James said the district helped the girls appeal the decision and during the meeting read a letter from the NCHSAA announcing an early end to their probation.
“In order to restore the educational mission of North Stanly High School, while helping the cheerleaders return to their role of promoting school spirit and supporting their sports teams, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association will end the probation period earlier than initially indicated, ending Oct. 4, which is five weeks prior to the end of the season,” said James, reading from the letter.
The probation did not limit the cheerleaders from participating in games but served as a warning, placing increased scrutiny in case of future incidents.
During intense national media attention on the controversy, a Sept. 20 football game was canceled by the district. James and the board members defended their decision to cancel the game. They said that because about 13% of the students had been picked up by worried parents and they were not able to prove rumors of planned violence were “unsubstantial” until hours later, the board had no choice but to cancel the game. “I will not take a chance on their lives. Period,” James said.
There was a protest scheduled to coincide with the game, and extra security was going to be provided for by the Stanly County Sheriff’s Department in case of disruptions. The game was instead played the following day.
A couple members of the public got up to speak on the issue. Jeremy Bertino, who often identifies himself to media as Jeremy Onitreb, said he organized the Sept. 20 rally in support of the North Stanly High School cheerleaders and believed the game was canceled because of a threat from the NAACP to sue the district.
“We’re tired of elected officials lying or playing games to save their own skin. Tell us the truth about why the game was canceled,” said Bertino, who then said he might have to submit a public records request to get the information he wanted.
Next to speak was 24-year-old Joshua Flores, who was in agreement with Bertino that the cheerleaders were mistreated and that politicians are lying for their own benefit. Flores is a candidate for the N.C. House.
Board Chairman Melvin Poole said the two men made personal accusations that did not line up with the facts because they were “not in the loop to know what’s going on.”
“I’m just telling you what’s on my mind, my friend,” Poole said. “You don’t intimidate me. Not one iota. I was in Vietnam dodging mortars before you were even in diapers.”
Vice-Chair Ryan McIntyre said that it was his decision, not Poole’s, to cancel the game because Poole was at his job and not available. McIntyre said, as a conservative, he couldn’t make sense of spending $7,500 on extra security for a football game. He added that while he is generally on the other side of the aisle from the NAACP, who Bertino blamed for pressure that led to the game being canceled, he believes they contribute a lot to the local schools and community.
McIntyre then listed things local NAACP members have done for the schools, like proctor for tests, tutor students after hours, serve on booster clubs, work concessions for games, serve as members of PTOs, welcome students back on the first day of school with high fives, give out backpacks full of school supplies, “and, lastly, I know members of the NAACP who stand around a flagpole and hold hands with students as they pray.”
He ended by saying, “One thing that a member of the local NAACP has never done is threaten me to cancel a high school football game.”
Other board members also engaged Bertino and Flores as the meeting ended, calling them out by name for social media comments and for bringing negative attention to the school system.