CHARDON, Ohio (WJW)– When members of the Chardon High School football team carried a “thin blue line” American flag onto the field in their season opener to show support for law enforcement, they could not have known the controversy it would create.
The student athlete who owns the flag that was carried onto the field by a teammate that night said his grandfather, who was in law enforcement, is in poor health.
“I just wanted to be able to do something meaningful for my family and for everyone who puts on that badge in the morning,” the teen said.
However, after several posters on social media called the flag a racist symbol, Chardon Local Schools conducted an investigation. While the district concluded that the players had only honorable intentions, superintendent Michael Hanlon said that the carrying of the flag onto the field could be perceived as political activity on school grounds and said that he was banning the flag.
In response, Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri called for Hanlon’s resignation.
Now, police supporters are planning a rally before Chardon’s next game Friday night.
“Number one, we want to support the kids that tried to support the law enforcement officers, and then in turn, we also are supporting law enforcement for what they do every day,” said rally organizer Eric Downing, a resident of Austintown.
Downing promoted the rally on Facebook and the page has been shared more than 1,300 times. He said those attending the rally will gather at 6 p.m. Friday on the Chardon Square, then march to the high school stadium.
Downing said he got involved because he remembered how Chardon police officers were among those who rushed to Chardon High School in February 2012. That’s when a teen gunman opened fire at the school, killing three students and wounding three others. Downing accuses school administrators of “turning their backs on police.”
“When they are in danger, the first thing a teacher or an administrator will do is call the police. When a student is attacking a teacher, they’re calling the police. They don’t want to get hurt, so if you can’t support law enforcement, that’s a political symbol, don’t call the police,” he said.
Chardon police are also weighing in the on the flag controversy. In a Facebook post, Police Chief Scott Niehus wrote that he and his officers appreciate the public show of support by the Chardon football team.
“It’s most important that we don’t lose sight that the members of the Chardon Police Department equally serve all persons who require our assistance without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender expression. When called upon we will respond,” Chief Niehus wrote.
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