The varsity football coach at Academic Magnet High School in Charleston County has been relieved from his coaching duties because of postgame victory celebrations a school board member says involved players smashing watermelons and making ape-like sounds, according to the Charleston County School District superintendent.
But some parents were livid with the decision, saying the celebrations had no racial intent at all.
Superintendent Dr. Nancy McGinley said that Academic Magnet High School football coach Eugene “Bud” Walpole will no longer coach the Raptors because of what some in the district felt were inappropriate postgame celebrations that could be seen as having racial overtones.
“This is not an employee who has been fired for the district, he is still a teacher in the district,” she said. “This relieving of the duties was related to the coaching position only.”
McGinley said activities that were part of the celebrations were something the adults should have not let happen. “Therefore we took action to relieve the head coach of his responsibilities.” McGinley said.
McGinley said school board member Michael Miller received a complaint from the parent of a Military Magnet High School student about the celebrations a week or two after Military Magnet’s loss to Academic Magnet on September 5. She said a further investigation found the players also drew a face on the watermelon with a black Sharpie and gave it a different name for each week’s game, including “Bonds-Wilson” numbers “1” through “5” the name of a predominantly black school that was located on Academic Magnet’s current site (per Charleston City Paper, it is also the name given to the joint campus that AMHS shares with the Charleston County School of the Arts).
Academic Magnet is a predominantly-white magnet school, while Military Magnet and most of the Raptors’ opponents are majority-black.
McGinley said an initial investigation by school officials found the coaches believed the celebration to be an “innocent ritual” that did not have racially-sensitive overtones. But McGinley said she decided to further investigate on the district level in October because Miller’s complaint said the chants were “animalistic and monkey-like.”
The superintendent said she and AMHS principal Judith Peterson told the team to stop the celebrations last week and then fired Walpole on Monday. But McGinley admitted that she had not personally spoken with Walpole prior to relieving him of his duties. She said she would talk to Walpole before presenting her findings to the school board at a later meeting.
Parents of some players angrily confronted McGinley during Tuesday’s press conference, insisting the celebrations were not meant to be racist. They also demanded to know why the team’s 29 players were taken out of class and individually questioned without their parents’ knowledge. At one point, the parents became antagonistic enough that McGinley ended the press conference, saying “I think we’re finished here.”
An online petition to reinstate Walpole as head coach has been created on the website Change.org.
Walpole has declined to comment on the decision.
Bill Dubensky and Matt Long contributed to this report