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Mothers of North Stanly cheerleaders speak out about Trump banner

By BJ Drye

Stanly News & Press

NEW LONDON — Two mothers of North Stanly High School cheerleaders are speaking out about the controversy stirred when members of the squad displayed a campaign flag supporting President Donald Trump’s re-election during a recent football game.

Jessica Stamper, the mother of one of the cheerleaders shown in a now-viral photograph holding a “Trump 2020 ‘Make America Great Again’ banner, said she wants to “set records straight as to how innocent and quickly this all happened.”

“She did not know the banner was going to be there,” Stamper wrote in a Facebook message. “One of the male students sitting in the student section had the flag wrapped around him like a cape as part of his ‘American costume.’”

The theme for the Aug. 30 game was “American Night.” Students were encouraged on social media to “wear your patriotic red, white and blue to support the Comets.”

School officials said their investigation revealed the banner was brought into the stadium by a cheerleader and that it was exhibited at halftime in addition to before the game.

“All the kids in the picture are all friends; they hang out together, eat lunch together, etc.,” Stamper said. “Before the game started, they were all talking with each other over on the track at the student section. A photographer was on the track snapping candid photos of everyone. And they all grouped up and took a quick picture. It wasn’t pre-planned; it wasn’t orchestrated by the school, any administrators or adults. They just saw the pics being taken and they all just grouped up and said, ‘Hey, let’s take a pic.’ Like any other theme night when the kids have costumes or props to support whatever the theme is that night. This being American Night … they were supporting the president.”

The photo of the cheerleaders circulated on Facebook after a North Stanly High School teacher posted it.

Since then, the incident has drawn national and international attention.

“The girls have handled the controversy very well,” Sarah Starnes Roberts, the mother of another cheerleader pictured, wrote in a Facebook message. “They understand that there are differing views on the situation, as there are with most things in our country today.”

Roberts said the cheerleaders are not concerned about extra security at the game this week. However, she did say they “want everyone to act appropriately and be safe.”

“Unfortunately, these girls are being accused of malicious intent and being called derogatory names by adults on social media, and they have received unwanted news attention across the country,” Roberts said. “They want to move forward, support their school and cheer for their football team without the overwhelming undesired attention being placed upon them.”

The cheerleading squad was placed on probation by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

“One of the rules we have is that every contest should be conducted in a wholesome, athletic environment,” association Commissioner Que Tucker said. “We take that to mean that it’s in an environment where good sportsmanship is shown, where people feel safe … (and) that respect for all people participating is being shown.”

The association later clarified that probation does not mean punishment.

“It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA handbook policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior. Should probationary infractions persist at a member school or within a team at a member school, additional sanctions such as fines or suspensions could be implemented,” the association wrote in a statement.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8, wrote to Tucker to request that the athletics association “immediately reconsider this unfair punishment,” referring to the probation.

“As leaders, we should be encouraging America’s youth to participate in our democracy and political process — not punishing and silencing them,” Hudson wrote. “These North Stanly students respectfully displayed a sign and took a picture. They did not cause a scene, participate in a protest or break any school code of conduct.”

Democratic congressional candidate Scott Huffman wrote to the commissioner as well, saying Hudson’s “remarks were somewhat inappropriate and misleading.”

“It is our job as parents and as educators to protect our children and create a safe environment not only in the classroom but in their extracurricular activities,” Huffman wrote. “Mr. Hudson is confusing democracy and free speech for his political gain. As a parent, I would urge the association not to fall in line with his demagoguery.

“Your decision has nothing to do with a child’s free speech and it has nothing to do with democracy. Your decision, although it may not be popular, is the correct approach and a learning opportunity enabling us to move forward with compassion, inclusiveness and understanding. A ballgame is not the appropriate venue,” Huffman wrote.

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