Vancleave High School did its best to tamp down the National Anthem controversy surrounding its football program with an apologetic statement, but some members of the community aren’t yet ready to forgive.
Several Vancleave residents made their way to the Jackson County School Board meeting on Monday at St. Martin Middle School with hope that their concerns would be addressed.
Members of the community are angered that the Vancleave team did not stand for the National Anthem in the final three home games of the season. The situation reached a boiling point when the East Central team stood for the anthem during the regular season finale while the Vancleave squad was still in the locker room.
Mitchie McMillan, a lieutenant in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, was at home that night, but traveled to the stadium after he was told what had happened.
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“It just made me mad,” McMillan said. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 18 years and the whole NFL thing is an attack on my profession. By them keeping our boys in the locker room it was like that brought it straight to my hometown.”
McMillan has been one of the more vocal critics of Vancleave administration in the fallout of the ordeal, posting videos on Facebook in which he expresses his disgust over the team’s failure to stand for the anthem.
“Everybody is embarrassed and mad,” he said. “It’s bigger than missing the National Anthem. It’s kind of an attack on the community.
“Everybody was like me. I just took it upon myself, with help from a lot of other people, to speak out about it. I went on Facebook Live for the first time. I was real uncomfortable to do it. I’ve made three of them and the last one had over 10,000-something views. People are sympathetic because of the NFL and the negative light and the attack on the anthem. People relate to it.”
Behind closed doors
McMillan, who said he wanted to see an official fired over the controversy, was given his opportunity to bring up his concerns with the school board on Monday, but it was done behind closed doors during executive session.
If McMillan’s supporters hoped to hear what he had to say to the school board, they left disappointed.
“I don’t like that,” said Danny Thompson, a Vancleave resident who has a son on the team. “If you’ve got something to hide or you’re ashamed of your actions, that’s not the right way to handle it. They need to make sure that they’re in communication with the community and we understand what decisions are made.”
The situation was addressed in open session only in a roundabout way when school board member Troy Frisbie had the Vancleave athletic director’s job description shown on the projector screen. He said the athletic director needed to serve as an ambassador to the community and to have a close working relationship with all involved.
Vancleave athletic director Matt Walters and assistant superintendent Todd Knight released a statement on Facebook last week and said that all of the school’s teams would stand for the anthem from now on.
‘Civil rights were violated’
Prior to the Bulldogs’ Oct. 6 home game against Moss Point, Vancleave officials decided to move the anthem up to 6:40 p.m. — a time when neither team would be on the field for the playing of the anthem.
The practice was in place for home games against Moss Point and Pass Christian, a team that was the center of its own heated controversy when three players took a knee during the anthem at Bay High on Sept. 29.
Vancleave residents are angry that the decision was made without telling the players and their parents.
“It’s sad that it has to come to this, to make that decision,” said Chelly Thompson, wife of Danny. “They made a decision and kept it secret from the parents. We should have been notified. They should not have put an apology on Facebook. The notification should have been on a robocall or through a letter to the parents.
“The boys’ civil rights were violated because they weren’t informed. They weren’t told. They put the coaches in a bad predicament.”
Walters and Knight claim that the reason the Vancleave team was missing from the field during the anthem for the East Central game was the result of a delay in plans due to pregame festivities on Senior Night.
“While we provided a schedule for all individuals participating, we did not tell the (Vancleave) coaching staff to bring the players out to the field for the national anthem, leaving the coaching staff to believe that they should not be on the field,” the statement said. “The coaches should not take any responsibility for this miscommunication, as that is our responsibility as administration of Vancleave High School to make sure that everyone fully understands their roles.”