Susan Skiles Luke, AP, MLive.com (MI), Mar. 4
METROPOLIS, Ill. (AP) — A brawl that broke out among fans on the court after a high school basketball playoff has led to charges of racism in this Ohio River town.
Police fired pepper spray on the overflow crowd and a coach and a cheerleader were injured during the melee last Friday night.
Police are investigating, the sports association is considering punishments for both schools, and both communities are blaming each other.
“It was racism. That’s what I see,” said Marlene Schultz, who was in the bleachers for mostly black Cairo High.
Danny Stevens, principal of mostly white Massac County High in Metropolis, said the problem was all Cairo’s. “It got out of control on their side,” he said. “To us, there’s nothing to investigate.”
Last Friday night’s game was never going to be friendly. After the two rivals met in the same regional championship four years ago in Cairo, fights broke out between fans in the parking lot.
This year, with Cairo’s application to host the regional turned down in part because of the past fights, the team had to drive to enemy territory.
When Cairo arrived, most of the 2,200 bleacher seats were already occupied by Massac fans, Cairo coach Larry Baldwin said. Fans crammed into the aisles, as 10 uniformed law-enforcement officers and a dozen volunteers in red T-shirts stood by to provide security.
“It was a hostile environment,” Baldwin said. “Too hostile.”
Massac won in an upset, 64-61. Seconds later, in a scene caught by school and news cameras, a water bottle flew from Cairo’s stands onto the court and hit Baldwin in the head, knocking him out and spilling blood on the floor. He later received five stitches.
Cairo fans came down from the stands and gathered around Baldwin, as Massac County players and fans celebrated a few feet away.
As Baldwin was carried out, police held out their arms, trying to keep the two swelling groups on the court apart. Fights broke out, and three officers used their pepper spray on the Cairo crowd, which lurched back, fell and scattered.
Days after the melee, Cairo cheerleader Quanita Vaughn, 14, remained hospitalized with a broken rib and internal bruises. Vaughn said she was trampled after police pepper-sprayed Cairo fans standing around her.
“I put my hands up at my face so he (a police officer) couldn’t Mace me,” Vaughn said from her Cape Girardeau, Mo., hospital bed. “Then I was on the ground, and people were stepping on me like a rug.”
Metropolis police said they are reviewing the school and news videotapes to identify those responsible for the violence.
“It appears quite clear to me that the police officers on the scene acted appropriately,” Police Chief Mike Worthen said in a statement.