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Lyrics return to Union County school athletic events

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The sounds of silence are no longer a staple of athletic events at Union County Public Schools. After banning music with lyrics for a year, the school district has released a list of authorized songs that can be played at games.

What’s in: songs from the likes of Elton John, AC/DC and Linkin Park. Out, among others, are ones by Jay-Z, Waka Flocka Flame and, somehow, Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Five groups made both lists.

Some of the songs debuted at football and other games across the district this month.

“I’m very pleased we’re back to hearing lyrics and bringing back that level of spirit, and bringing back plain old common sense to our schools,” said parent Karen Shelton. She helped lead the drive to overturn the ban.

The district started the ban last year following complaints that over the past few years, songs with inappropriate lyrics were being played at most high school games. The ban may have been the first of its kind in the country, national and state education trade groups have said.

Only instrumental music was allowed at high school athletic events and middle school games for sports sponsored by the school district, including basketball and cheerleading.

But students, parents and others asked the school board last spring to end the ban. School officials reconsidered it and came up with a system to judge which songs could be played.

A centralized screening committee established by athletic director Doug Jones reviewed songs submitted by students, teachers and others in the various school clusters.

When considering if songs were appropriate, the committee took into consideration language, references, any hidden meanings and innuendos.

Some 89 songs made the approved list, although for a few of those, just a snippet is allowed since parts of the song are not appropriate. Another 26 songs were not approved. And separately, medleys of songs for the dance and cheer teams all were approved.

“We looked at every aspect,” Jones said, “and erred on the safe side.”

For instance, he said most people were familiar with “American Pie.”

“The average person would say that’s an old classic,” Jones said. “But it talks about drinking and liquor,” he said, referring to the line about “good ol’ boys drinking whiskey and rye.”

And drinking, Jones said, is not appropriate for a high school age audience, where all of the youths are under 21.

Other songs were easier to eliminate.

For instance, several included swearing and the “N-word,” such as Flame’s “Hard in Da Paint” and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”

Only songs on the official list are allowed to be played at games. They include the likes of the Village People’s “YMCA,” Linkin Park’s “In the End” and Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”

The committee will meet twice a year to update the list, Jones said, and the next meeting is set for January.

Jones credited Powell Williams’ Weddington High AP government class with getting the process started last spring. Students made a detailed presentation to school officials that suggested having pre-approved songs distributed throughout the district.

McKenna Gorham, a senior at the school, was one of the students who participated in the proposal last school year.

“We were really excited we had such a big impact on the process,” she said. “We got to fight for it and got it passed.”

And it felt good, Gorham added, to go to football and volleyball games this month and hear the music and lyrics at the events.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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