Plainfield girls basketball team honored for response to ‘racist’ puppet
PLAINFIELD — Members of the Plainfield girls basketball team that found a black-colored puppet hanging in the Clark high school art room they used as a changing room have been honored for how they handled themselves during the incident.
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award was presented to the team for displaying "great self-discipline, respect, consideration and tolerance for others when at a recent game they turned a negative situation into a positive expression of respect, honesty, and love for others. A great display of character and sportsmanship," superintendent of Plainfield Public Schools Anna Belin-Pyles said.
Plainfield played a game on Jan. 7 at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark and members found the puppet when they arrived. In an image posted by Plainfield resident Andre Payton to social media alleging "this was deliberately done and an act of racism," the puppet can be seen hanging by its neck on a string with a basketball at the other end.
A game scheduled between the teams on Thursday at Plainfield was postponed because the investigation by both districts are continuing, MyCentralJersey.com reported.
Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso, whose daughter plays on the Clark team, said no one from the Cardinals team or coaching staff reported anything while they were at the school, and that he only became aware of the puppet after the image was posted to social media.
Investigations by the Plainfield and Clark school districts are not yet complete, according to Plainfield School District spokeswoman Gloria Montealegre.
The NJSIAA, the governing body that regulations high school athletics in the state, has asked both school districts to investigate.
“We also have notified the state’s New Jersey Division on Civil Rights in the Attorney General’s Office and will keep them updated,” the organization said in a statement. Union County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Mark Spivey has said that office’s bias unit was aware of the matter and in communication with the Clark Police Department and Clark Public School District regarding it.
Bonaccorso said that if it is discovered that the puppet was hung with malice, those responsible will be fully prosecuted.
“I don’t think the issue is whether the puppet was made,” Bonaccorso said. “I think if the puppet was sitting on a shelf no one would have said anything about it. I think the fact that the string was around the neck was from where the issue came. Again, it was not a noose. I don’t know if there’s more being made out of this than there should be.”
But a parent has told New Jersey 101.5 the puppet was part of a class project in which students make life-size figures of famous people. The puppet in question was supposed to be a likeness of basketball player LeBron James, the parent said. She said her son is in an art class with the student who made the puppet.
Clark is a largely white community — with 93 percent of its residents classified as white in the 2010 Census, and just .10 classified as black. Plainfield, by contrast, is 50 percent black and just 23 percent white.
The Plainfield team received basketballs and other mementos from the school district and its leadership during Tuesday night's game with Westfield.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com
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