Upon completing the school's first undefeated season in more than 40 years with a state title on Sunday, the Phillipsburg (N.J.) High wrestling team received a police escort home and a hero's welcome.
Two days later, the Stateliners are a disgrace. The team has come under fire for a photo shared on social media channels that appears to show numerous members of the team "lynching" a black wrestling dummy donning a rival Paulsboro (N.J.) High sweatshirt, as first reported by the Warren Reporter.
According to multiple local media reports, the photo portrays seven members of the state championship team, including two with the hoods of their sweatshirts fashioned into points and a third saluting above the dummy hanging by a rope. The two teams faced each other in an annual dual meet on Feb. 1.
"Weve had a 15 or 20-year history of outstanding wrestling contests between the two schools. In all cases, the wrestlers and teams have had good competition," Paulsboro superintendent Walter Quint told the South Jersey Times after sharing his disappointment with Phillipsburg counterpart George Chando. "This is just unfortunate. It diminishes two quality programs that respect each other. What was in that picture was just plain wrong."
The Phillipsburg school district is reportedly investigating the matter and would not discuss the issue in the media. Stateliners wrestling coach Dave Post told LehighValleyLive.com, "I cannot comment on the situation, other than to say it is a private student matter that's currently under investigation."
Paulsboro's wrestling program features multiple African-American members. Naturally, the community has expressed concern about the disturbing nature of the photo and the culture that led to it.
"When I saw it last night, I was just sick to my stomach," Patty Farrow, whose grandson DeJon wrestles in the Paulsboro program, told the South Jersey Times. "I got to see the picture and I had to really look at it to make sure no one was misinterpreting what that picture was, but there was no misinterpretation. That was white kids on a wrestling team lynching a Paulsboro wrestler. This transcends wrestling."
The individual state tournament -- separate from the team championships held this past weekend -- are slated to begin on Saturday, and Phillipsburg is set to host the District 1 championships. It's hard to imagine anyone involved in the photo will be allowed to participate. There possibility also remains that the team could be stripped of its state championship. So much for that hero's welcome.