CLARK — The mother of a Clark high school student says allegations of racism after the visiting Plainfield High School girls basketball team found a sculpture of a black man seemingly "hanging" in the room where members were assigned to change is nothing more than a misunderstanding.

The Cardinals from Plainfield High School were horrified to make the discovery when they arrived for a game Saturday morning at the Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark. A picture of the mannequin was included in a Facebook post by Andre Payton.

What appeared to be a basketball was at the top of a string that went around around the mannequin’s neck.

“Our coach said there was other dolls/muppets in the room but this particular one had a string around the neck with a basketball on top so I wouldn’t call this an indirect message this is a clear message of hate and racism!!!!” Payton wrote.

A Clark parent named Julia, who asked her full name not to be used in order to protect her son's privacy, said the sculpture was actually a puppet of Lebron James made by another student as part of a class assignment.

"He also crafted a basketball and sewed it to the hand and let it dangle. My son also told me that the kid may have chosen to let it dangle or is still in the process of sewing it to the hand and the needle is in the ball," Julia said. "Because the string is dangling, it was wrapped around, up and over the wooden holder. It was in no means meant to be anything more than that."

She said she's "truly sorry" to hear visiting Plainfield team members took it as a racist attack.

According to the 2010 Census, Clark is a largely white community — with 93 percent of its residents classified as white, and just .10 classified as black. Plainfield, by contrast, is 50 percent black and just 23 percent white.

"I am truly sorry the team felt that way. I would hate for them to feel targeted and hurt. I also feel sorry for the boy who made a puppet of his favorite player, draped the basketball string around it to keep it safe, and now has to face this outrage. It's disgusting," Julia said.

She said the puppets are difficult to make: "My son has been working endlessly on his, right down to the skin color.

"There are four colors you are given: white, black, yellow, and red," she said. "You have to mix them to get the right shade. I saw a comment about the puppet's face being purposefully dark black. The kid did his best. It took my son four tries to get his white puppet the right shade."

She said the art room for the puppetry class is located directly across the hall from the school's gym.

Clark school superintendent Edward Grande confirmed that a puppetry class is offered at the school in the same room used as the basketball team, but didn't address whether the puppet was part of a legitimate assignment. In an earlier statement he promised a prompt and through investigation into the incident.

In a separate statement, Plainfield superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles said that she spoke to Grande and is also conducting an investigation.

"When made aware of the problem at Clark, I responded quickly and took decisive action on behalf of our student-athletes and our District," she said. "We want to assure our students, parents, guardians, staff and community that this incident is being thoroughly and comprehensively investigated with the seriousness it deserves."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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