With rumors spreading through social media that displays of patriotic pride won't be allowed at an upcoming Morris Hills vs. Dover basketball game — possibly over racial sensitivities — officials say it's not true.

Students will be allowed to wear patriotic clothing and USA apparel, Morris Hills school officials say.

But the school won't allow patriotic props — or any props at all — Morris Hills Principal Todd Toriello said in an email. "Any type of object/prop symbolizing the United States of America" will be barred, he said.

"That is true for the following reason: As per our game procedures and expectations for contests taking place in the gymnasium, any and all objects are not permitted due to player and spectator safety. Furthermore, objects can become a distraction to the process of the game," Toriello said in an email.

It's not immediately clear how the controversy over the American apparel and other items began, as the school plans to face off against Dover, where nearly 70 percent of the population self-identified as Hispanic in the 2010 Census. Approximately 6,200 of the roughly 90,000 residents in town are foreign-born.

Morris Hills draws from Rockaway Borough, Wharton, and parts of Rockaway Township, all of which have majority-White populations, and much smaller Hispanic populations.

Dan Sperry, the father of three boys who attend the school, said his son Kevin told him students on the basketball team chose the USA as their theme for the upcoming game — but then were told by coaches not to move ahead with it.

Sperry's information was secondhand — his son had been told about the conversation by other students at the school. He acknowledged some details could be muddled in the chain of communication.

"They’re going about it the wrong way. They’re making a big deal out of it, which is putting more of a spotlight out," Sperry said, adding that students instead settled on a beach theme for the game.

Morris Hills Principal Todd Toriello did not comment on whether the administration rejected the USA theme, or why it might have. But he said patriotic apparel isn't problem.

"Any student or spectator arriving at the game wearing red, white, and blue or USA apparel will be admitted," Toriello said in his emailed statement. "There is no truth to the rumor that students wearing red, white, and blue or USA apparel will be prohibited from entrance or disciplined in any way."

Morris Hills adheres to guidelines set by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic League, which governs all high school interscholastic athletics. Toriello said the NJSIAA guidelines prohibit negative statements and "trash-talking" during sporting events.

The principal quoted the NJSIAA guidelines on conduct during games, which state:

“There will be no tolerance for negative statements or actions between opposing players, coaches, and spectators. This includes taunting, baiting, berating opponents, ‘trash-talking,’ or actions which ridicule or cause embarrassment to them. Any verbal, written, or physical conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or religion shall not be tolerated, could subject the violator to ejection, and may result in penalties being assessed against your team.”

Sperry said his son Kevin, "likes to stir the pot — he's a lot like me. We don't mind following the rules, but don't tell us to do something that isn't part of the rule."

Sperry described Kevin as "very patriotic," often wearing pro-USA clothing and speaking of his pride for his country.

"It's just, being a white person, it's very hard to be proud of being white or being an American without offending someone," he said.

Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at toniann.antonelli@townsquaremedia.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.

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