Back in March, Ardrey Kell High School suspended a white star basketball player for using a racial slur on social media. He directed it at predominantly black West Charlotte, a rival school Ardrey Kell was about to meet in a big playoff game.
Now, that player is attempting to return to his team.
The player will be a senior in the fall and has already played in some summer league games with Ardrey Kell. The Observer has chosen not to identify him.
But the big test will come when the high school season kicks off in November, when teams will be playing in front of students and fans, who are largely absent from summer events.
And some area coaches have a safety concern when that happens.
“I believe in giving people second chances,” said West Charlotte coach Jacoby Davis, whose team beat Ardrey Kell in a state quarterfinal last March, “but I do think it’s going to be a safety issue. I don’t know how (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) is going to handle that. You don’t want the kid or somebody else to get hurt. And now you’re putting more on each school, with bringing in extra security and police. I don’t know how to handle that.
“The minute (students and fans) know he’s going to be playing, it’s not going to be easily forgotten. I hate the kid even said it because I’d only heard good things about the kid before that.”
The father of the Ardrey Kell player declined an interview request for this story. In March, he and his wife issued a strong apology via a text message to the Observer, saying, in part, “We do recognize the wrong and hurt caused by careless words. We do not believe his words represent who he is as a person.”
Ardrey Kell boys basketball coach Mike Craft did not respond to efforts from the Observer for comment. School principal David Switzer referred all interview requests to CMS spokesperson Renee McCoy.
Asked if Ardrey Kell had consulted CMS before reinstating the player, McCoy said she couldn’t provide that information due to privacy laws.
Asked if CMS had any security concerns about the player participating in games next season, or if the district was planning to have additional security, McCoy replied, “the safety and security of everyone involved in an athletics event is priority.”
The Observer also asked if CMS had conducted any outreach between Ardrey Kell and West Charlotte since the social media post and fallout.
“Sportsmanship is emphasized,” McCoy responded, “and is an expectation of everyone involved in any athletics event. This is an on-going process as Ardrey Kell and West Charlotte have and will continue to build community together.”
Ardrey Kell’s 2019-2020 basketball schedule has not been released, but the Knights will play games at rival schools with predominantly black populations like Olympic, Harding and West Mecklenburg.
Harding coach L.J. Johnson said that creates a concern.
“Not only do I fear it from a security standpoint, but it will just have everybody on high alert, from a parental standpoint but also from the kids’. Kids won’t be able to understand it as well as adults. All they know is this kid said what he said and that’s how he feels. He never came out and issued an apology for it.”
Former West Charlotte parent Mitzi Sims Porter became heavily involved on social media when that post became public. She helped organize a strong turnout for the playoff game that was ultimately moved from West Charlotte to Vance.
Like Johnson, she believes an apology from the player is something that should happen.
“Students,” she said, “will show their anger. I pray there’s no violence. ... No one wants their whole career taken away, but if this had been a West Charlotte student, it would’ve been handled differently, to not be able to play again, or not play against that school.
“This has been brushed under the rug. He’s back right after that season. It is very frustrating.”