LINTON, N.D. — The superintendent of the Linton school district issued a written apology to Saturday’s football opponent after students there burned an effigy with an opposing team player’s number on it before the homecoming game against Oakes.
A video shows an effigy, with the number Oakes football player, Dalton Nelson, hanging from a basketball hoop. The students then lit it on fire. Nelson is of Puerto Rican descent.
The video appeared just before the Linton and Oakes football teams play each other in Linton.
Kraig Steinhoff, superintendent of the Oakes School District, confirmed that the video was shot in Linton, and that some of the boys in the video are on the Linton football team.
Steinhoff also said he talked with Paul Keeney, superintendent and football coach at Linton.
Steinhoff was told there's been a long homecoming tradition of taking effigies, like scarecrows, putting the names of the opposing school's players on them, then burning it, but he's not sure if they were always hanging up.
Keeney said Friday morning, Sept. 7, that about one-third of his football players were at the effigy burning. He said the shirt worn by the effigy was brought to the school by a girl from Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock district with two numbers, one on the front (69) and another number on the back. The number on the back (55) is Nelson’s jersey number, Keeney said.
Keeney said in his apology to the player that “the shirt with those numbers on them was brought to this activity by a female member of HMB School, who doesn’t know the particular jersey numbers of anyone on the Oakes Football Team that I am aware of.”
Keeney sent a written apology to the football team and to the player, whose name was redacted in documents received by Forum News Service.
In part, Keeney’s apology to the player reads:
“Although no member of my coaching staff were in attendance for this last night, I want you to know of my sincere apologies, if any aspect of this activity offended you in any way. I know that a few of the 20-40 people that were at this activity know you, and I can assure you that none of these people meant to draw any negative attention to you whatsoever.”
Keeney said the apology was received and accepted by Oakes officials and the football team.
In Steinhoff’s reply to Keeney, the superintendent said, “Obviously, it is in very poor taste and should not be tolerated now or in the future.”
Steinhoff also requested in the letter that the teams be on opposite sides of the football field, where normally at Linton the teams share the same sideline.
Steinhoff spoke to Dalton and his family, and while they think the incident may have been blown out of proportion, they say the homecoming prank crossed the line.
"He (Dalton) thinks it's blown up way more than it is, obviously it's not something that we as a school condone and I don't think our players or the victim, the victim's family condones this, they want this to not happen again but on the flip side, we want to move on," Steinhoff said.
Keeney said he will meet with his team captains about the incident.
No criminal investigation is planned and the football game will still go on.