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Guilty plea in Fort Mill graduation cheering case

By Andrew Dys
adys@heraldonline.com

ROCK HILL The latest criminal case – but likely not the last – involving the arrest of people who cheer at York County high school graduations ended quietly this week.

Nobody cheered.

A Rock Hill city judge took the second of two guilty pleas from Jonathan Simon of Fort Mill Tuesday, apparently making York County safe again from public expressions of love and joy.

Simon pleaded guilty Tuesday to resisting police and was fined $250, and the case of cheering for a graduating brother ended. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine last month to the trespassing charge.

Police allege that Simon yelled during Fort Mill High School’s graduation ceremony, held June 6 at Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, and that he used bad language after police escorted him out.

All seven York County high schools ban cheering during the graduation ceremonies held at Winthrop University – a college where cheering is allowed when diplomas are handed out to its graduates.

Clapping, cheering, expressions of love and pride other than silence are not allowed during high school graduations, though.

School officials have no plans to change that policy of hearing a single cheer and having cops ask the terrible perpetrator of heartfelt love to leave.

Simon originally denied the allegations, saying he would fight the charges in court. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

His love for his brother cost him a total of $450 – and a criminal record.

Rock Hill Solicitor Chris Barton said Simon “kind of jerked away from the officers when they tried to arrest him” after he was asked to leave and refused. Simon also used profanity, Barton said.

Barton, a three-tour Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran with the Army National Guard, said he offered Simon a chance to enter a pretrial diversion program that would eliminate the conviction, but Simon declined and pleaded guilty.

Barton likened the graduation arrests to someone invited to a wedding getting rowdy and refusing to leave.

“As a prosecutor,” he said, “I have to look at did the person commit the offense or not.”

Schools set the rules. Graduations are private affairs. Be quiet, endure the boredom, clap and yell at the end, and wait to rush for the exit.

Fort Mill schools do not expect to change the policy that bans cheering, which has been in effect for more than a decade. Clover, York and Rock Hill schools all have similar policies.

“It works if everyone does what he is supposed to do,” schools spokeswoman Kelly McKinney said. “Hopefully we will have respectful graduations.”

The police at graduations are hired by the school districts. In 2008, York County gained national attention for arresting people for cheering at graduations. Eight people were locked up. After that, the no-cheering policies were changed, so people were no longer arrested for cheering but escorted out. Now, police slap on the handcuffs only if there is another offense.

Allen Brandon was one of the eight people arrested in 2008 for cheering for his daughter at Northwestern High School’s graduation. The cheer was a request from his dying wife. In 2011, when Brandon was in a wheelchair following a motorcycle wreck, he was kicked out of a second daughter’s graduation.

Brandon said Wednesday that it is “ridiculous” that Simon was expelled and arrested in the first place. And now the young man has been convicted of two misdemeanors, which Brandon said makes the situation worse.

“This is not going to stop,” Brandon said. “People, someone like him or me, will cheer because they love that person graduating so much. The only way this will stop is if the schools say it is OK to cheer.”

But the schools’ heels are dug in. No cheering until almost all of 400 names are called. Sit still. Put your hands under your rear end. Applaud 13 years of sacrifice with a nod, a sigh – maybe a nap.

Maybe schools should start showing a video clip from the movie “Animal House” on the giant four-sided scoreboard hanging above the Winthrop Coliseum floor during graduation. In that scene, Dean Wormer screams at the members of Delta Tau Chi fraternity:

“No more fun of any kind!”

Andrew Dys is a columnist with the (Rock Hill) Herald.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
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