CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The West Charlotte High School boys’ basketball team lost its home-court advantage because the state athletic association said its gym was too small, but that didn’t deter them from defeating their opponents in a playoff game Tuesday night.
The West Charlotte Lions pulled ahead, beating Ardrey Kell High School, 69-53. The game was held at Vance High School.
Following the big win, players said they felt like they can overcome anything.
“These last couple days have brought us closer as a community -- as a team,” West Charlotte senior Patrick Williams said. “It showed us how much West Charlotte loves us and supports us.”
The Lions will head to regionals Saturday in Hickory.
The night before the playoff basketball game that already had West Charlotte High School calling foul, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools suspended a star player for Ardrey Kell High School for using a racial slur.
According to CMS Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ, the Knights’ suspended the player, who has not been named, for using the highly offensive language in a Snapchat message.
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In the message, the player used the slur to refer to West Charlotte. He has been suspended indefinitely.
West Charlotte Junior Nathaniel Carter said, “He didn't even give a reason. He just called us the n-word. I mean, what’s the hate for? We’re just here to play basketball.”
Carter said it hurt when he read the comment, which was circulated on social media after someone took a screenshot and shared it.
CMS saw the message and immediately benched the player.
Below is the full statement from CMS:
"Champions rise to inspire greatness by doing their best, not by bringing others down. A CMS student-athlete used a racial slur on Monday, March 4 in a social media post related to the upcoming NCHSAA regional semifinal basketball game between West Charlotte HS and Ardrey Kell HS. Racist behavior and actions are repugnant to educational ideals, contrary to CMS and community values, and will not be tolerated within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The student-athlete has been suspended indefinitely from athletic participation. CMS also continues to investigate this matter and further disciplinary actions may be taken according to the CMS Student Code of Conduct. The district asks students, families and the community to give the student-athletes of West Charlotte HS and Ardrey Kell HS the support and respect they have earned and deserve as they compete for the NCHSAA regional semifinal title tonight. CMS wishes the best of luck to both teams."
CMS said it is continuing to investigate and could take further disciplinary actions.
West Charlotte Student Body President Kayla Gaymon said the racial slur stung but it brought everyone together as a family.
"I was more hurt because our boys have worked so hard, so hard," Gaymon said. "It hurt us but it didn't break us, and you're going to see that tonight from our love and support for the team."
The suspended player’s parents support the district's punishment of their son and said he's "ashamed and deeply sorrowful."
The parents of the suspended student sent Channel 9 reporter Mark Barber the following statement:
“Sadly, we were made aware [yesterday] afternoon that our son sent a private snap that was screen shot and shared. The content was highly offensive to West Charlotte High School, our community at large and our friends, family, and his own teammates. To the many people that rightfully are hurt by his words today, we are incredibly sorry and offer our sincere apologies.
“As a family, we are devastated and so is [our son]. While we stand by our son, and love him deeply, we do recognize the wrong and hurt caused by careless words. We do not believe his words represent who he is as a person, his overall character and heart towards others. Being part of a diverse community is significant to our values as a family, but it is clear today, that there are more conversations to be had as today’s words don’t reflect the tone of our home nor true heart of our son. [Our son] is ashamed and deeply sorrowful for his word choice. He has met with his teammates, coaches, and principal and personally apologized. And for the many who [our son] will never get to speak to regarding today, he is sorry.
“There is no excuse for words like this. [Our son] is firmly aware of that and holds himself accountable for his careless action. We as a family stand by his suspension, and believe firmly that [our son], our family, and prayerfully, our entire community will grow from this.”
Gaymon told Channel 9 reporter Mark Barber the West Charlotte players and fans who have been hurt are just going to live out the famous motto, "When they go low, we go high."
Former student body president Maurice Grier said, "We get lemons and we make lemonade, that's what West Charlotte does. It's always done that and will continue to do that."
Tensions around the game were already running high because the North Carolina High School Athletic Association took away West Charlotte's home court advantage because it thought the school's gym was too small.
People such as Grier think moving the game underscored the issue of educational inequity.
Ninety-eight percent of the students at West Charlotte are on free-or-reduced lunch programs. Ardrey Kell, on the other hand, is one of the state’s largest and wealthiest high schools.
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West Charlotte High School's basketball team fought hard all season to win home court advantage in the playoffs, but the state moved the game to a different school.
The playoff matchup against Ardrey Kell High School was played at Vance High School, which is eight miles away from West Charlotte High.
The state moved the semifinal game to Vance because it thinks West Charlotte's gymnasium, which can seat about 450 fans, is too small.
The state said Vance is a neutral school with more seating options. Officials said they made the decision to move the game after hearing concerns from both West Charlotte and Ardrey Kell.
“We are all pretty disturbed and plan to be at that game," said West Charlotte alumna Michelle Delaney.
She was a cheerleader at the school in the 1990s when the team wasn't forced to leave for its most important games.
“We played championship games at home and we beat people and these kids need to have the same kind of feeling we had, a lot of pride, a sense of community coming in to support us," Delaney said.
The state High School Athletic Association said the move isn’t personal. A spokesperson told Channel 9 it has moved games in other cities before.
Many West Charlotte families said that doesn't make it right, and think this is a case of educational inequity.
The old school is often overlooked and underserved but Commissioner Pat Cotham thinks its rich history is still worth seeing.
"It's a missed opportunity for the kids at Ardrey Kell to experience West Charlotte. These are their peers and they may live in a different zip code but they're going to be interacting with them as the years go on. I think it does hurt the home advantage. There's definitely a home advantage to things," she said.
Alumni told Channel 9 they would wear their school colors proudly and try to pack the high school to remind students they've got their support.
Eventually, West Charlotte will get a new campus. Voters approved the construction of a new school in the recent bond package, but it will be years before the new school opens.
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