Ahead of a planned rally to support a cheerleading team on probation over a pro-Trump photo, a North Carolina high school has canceled its Friday night football game due to security concerns.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association previously placed the cheerleaders on probation over a picture that was taken of them in uniform with a Trump 2020 banner during a football game. Some community members, who feared the teens’ First Amendment rights were being infringed, had planned to wave a large flag with supporters before the game Friday.
The district said it canceled the North Stanly High School football game because “Stanly County Schools has been notified of additional information that could compromise safety measures our schools have in place for sporting events.”
“There was no threat,” Jeremy Onitreb, one of the rally organizers, told McClatchy news group in response. “Nobody’s coming up there to hurt the kids. It’s not what this was about.”
When asked if the rally would still take place, Onitreb didn’t hesitate.
“You’re damn right it is,” he said.
“The next rally is going to happen out at the NCHSAA offices,” he added. “Que Tucker is next, we’re coming for her job. Until she decides to resign, we’re taking this fight to her.”
Tucker is the commissioner of the NCHSAA, a position she has held since December 2015.
The NCHSAA was quick to clarify the probation was not a form of punishment, as the association “has not defined the terms of the probation,” the Charlotte Observer reported. The team is also expected to continue cheering, according to district officials.
Onitreb and his co-organizer Jay Thaxton created an event on Facebook for the rally shortly after the NCHSAA’s decision was made public. More than 200 people had RSVP’d by Friday afternoon with an additional 1,300 marking themselves “interested” on the Facebook event page.
Onitreb and Thaxton both have ties to far-right and conservative groups, including the Proud Boys and Three Percenters, according to their public profile images on Facebook and a report by the Stanly News & Press.
Proud Boys, a group only for men, operates under the basic tenet of “western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” according to its website.
“The Proud Boys confuse the media because the group is anti-SJW without being alt right,” the website states. “‘Western chauvinist’ includes all races, religions and sexual preferences.”
Onitreb had said previously there would be designated security guards at the rally. But he wasn’t sure if counter protests were expected.
Safety is his number one priority — political discourse without physical violence, he said.
“I don’t expect any of that and I’m not looking for that and nobody in my group will be looking for that,” he said.
The school echoed that sentiment in its statement Friday afternoon.
“Please know our number one concern is the safety of our students, athletes, staff, and community supporters,” officials said.
Organizers kept an open line of communication with law enforcement in the lead-up to the rally, according to Onitreb. He said police were planning to meet beforehand and let him know what their plan was.
But it was an unexpected message he received when the sheriff’s office eventually called.
“The reason they decided to cancel the game is because somebody out there wanted to shut down our free speech so bad — they wanted to shut this rally down so bad — that they were willing to call the school and threaten the school,” Onitreb said in a Facebook live video on the event page.
“I’m flabbergasted,” he added.
In the video, Onitreb apologized to the football players and cheerleaders, saying the onus is on the school.
He also said ralliers would come to the next game and the one after that — until the end of the season, if need be — to get their message across.
“We’re not going down like this,” he said. “Rocky Balboa wore American flag trunks for a reason. Do you know how hard it was to knock that man out? Well, it’s going to be real hard to knock us out.”