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Eight members of an unbeaten New Jersey high school wrestling team have been suspended after a photo surfaced showing team members posing with a mannequin in a rival school's colors hanging from a noose — but they say they meant no offense.
Phillipsburg High School Principal Greg Troxell announced Thursday during an internal school meeting that the wrestlers would not compete in the district tournament scheduled for Friday and Saturday, said Michael Cherenson, representing the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
The photo shows seven white students posing with a dark-colored dummy hanged by its neck, wearing a Paulsboro Wrestling T-shirt. Two of the youths in the photo fashioned their sweatshirt hoods into points. Another is holding a paddle.
In a news briefing Thursday night, the wrestlers' attorney Scott Wilhelm read a statement on behalf of the boys in which they apologized to the community and said the photo was “spontaneous” without any thought of racial overtones.
The wrestling dummy used in the picture was standard issue, they said, and as far as they know only was made in a dark leather.
The said the purpose was to simply celebrate the season and victories over two rival schools.
“We apologize,” they added. “We didn’t intend to disparage anyone.”
The two schools are longtime competitors. Phillipsburg, in northwest New Jersey, is a community of 15,000 where about 85 percent of the population is white. Paulsboro, south of Philadelphia, has about 6,000 residents — with more than one-third of them black, according to NBC Philadelphia.
Cherenson said that NJSIAA officials sent the picture to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights after they discovered it.
Phillipsburg officials were required to submit a report to NJSIAA on Thursday. After reviewing the report, the association’s Executive Director, Steven J. Timko, said, “The NJSIAA will continue to work with the Phillipsburg administration to develop a corrective action plan to ensure that actions like this do not happen in the future.”