The state organization that governs interscholastic athletics in New Jersey is looking into a controversial photo showing seven Phillipsburg High School wrestlers posing with a black dummy hanging by a noose.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Association (NJSIAA) on Wednesday confirmed that the organization has asked to the Phillipsburg School District to submit a written report on the matter by Thursday. The NJSIAA is asking the district to outline its investigation into what actions were taken. At this point, NJSIAA officials are not saying if they plan to consider any action beyond what the district has taken.
The Phillipsburg School District released a statement to Tuesday afternoon stating: "The incident reported is a student matter dealing with minors. An investigation was undertaken and upon conclusion of the investigation, actions were taken by the district consistent with its policies."
The dummy seen in the photo is wearing a Paulsboro High School Wrestling T-shirt. Two of the teenage boys have their hoods up in a point and another appears to be saluting in the photo, which was obtained from The Express-Times.
Varying reaction poured in after the photo surfaced earlier this week.
"It's inappropriate, insensitive. It's just wrong on so many levels," said Superintendent Walt Quint, Paulsboro Public Schools.
It has some questioning if the photograph was racially inspired.
Quint said there are black students on Paulsboro's squad, but he doesn't believe it was a direct attack on race or any specific individual.
"A foolish act by a group of young men…My guess is they aren't even aware of the history and how insensitive and wrong this is," Quint said.
Students at Phillipsburg agree. They described the photo as commentary on Phillipsburg's recent victory over Paulsboro. Phillipsburg defeated Paulsboro 38-21 on Feb. 1.
"I know a lot of them, it wasn't supposed to be a malicious thing," said Jeremy Edinger, a student at Phillipsburg High School
"Nothing toward racism, it was more of a joke. If you know the boys, they didn't mean anything offensive by it," said Meghan Wicks, a student at Phillipsburg High School.
Quint said the two schools have had an ongoing rivalry.
"There is a rivalry, a good rivalry. Fierce yes. They are two premiere wrestling programs," Quint said.
But parents aren't seeing the fun.
"I don't think it's kids just being kids. They're clearly old enough to know better in this picture," said Elaine Valk, a parent.
"It's disgusting," said Robert Pierce, a parent.
Quint said he discussed the matter with Phillipsburg's superintendent and he expects the friendly rivalry to continue.
"It doesn't represent their school wrestling team, it certainly doesn't represent the rivalry we have," Quint said.