Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley fired Bud Walpole, head football coach at Academic Magnet school, after an investigation revealed a questionable post-game ritual that included smashing watermelons and making monkey sounds.
“Players would gather in a circle and smash the watermelon while others were either standing in a group or locking arms and making chanting sounds described as, ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh,'” McGinley said. Each time, the watermelon was decorated with what McGinley described as a caricature by a student using a Sharpie marker.
McGinley said the ritual continued until last week, when the principal agreed the ritual should not happen again.
“Based upon interviews with 29 students and the head coach and two assistant coaches, it was our conclusion that the accountability lies with the adults. That the perceptions and the practices that were part of this ritual were not something that the adults should have sanctioned, and therefore, we took action,” she said.
The post-game tradition reportedly began after wins this season. After winning their first game of the season back in September, the team smashed a watermelon in celebration. After winning their next game they began a tradition of smashing a watermelon and eating it after each win which continued for the team’s 6 game win streak.
However, after tons of backlash from parents who felt the ritual was innocent and did not have racist undertones, as well as, pressure from the school board, McGinley met with Walpole and decided to give him his job back.
“Taking into consideration the potential value that he will add to our students and the community, given this experience, I am asking him to resume his coaching duties effective Thursday, October 23, 2014,” McGinley said.
“During the meeting, he acknowledged that the facts that emerged surrounding the celebratory practices of the Academic Magnet High School football program could be viewed in a negative way. He agreed that we will work together on increasing diversity awareness for students and the community,” McGinley said.
I must say, this sounds very fishy. Having grown up in South Carolina, I know that racism is still alive a well there and maybe more overtly prevalent than in other states. Based on all of the information I’ve read, this seemed like a practice that started off as innocent celebration, but turned into something very ugly and racist. Hopefully, Walpole learned his lesson, but in my opinion, his almost immediate reinstatement enforces the racism and hatred behind the controversial ritual. I think it’s also important to remember that behaviors and thought processes like these are taught and therefore, I hold the parents responsible also.