Following unspecified security concerns, though, Stanly County Schools said on Friday afternoon that it had canceled the game at North Stanly High School after being “notified of additional information that could compromise safety measures our schools have in place for sporting events.”
The district did not return a request for comment.
Stanly County Sheriff Jeff Crisco said he was not told what information the district received, though he put extra security measures in place before the game was canceled Friday afternoon, he told The Washington Post.
The sheriff confirmed that he learned before the game was canceled that at least one of the organizers, Jay Thaxton, is linked to the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys are a far-right, self-identified “Western-chauvinist group” that has provoked violence against anti-fascist protesters, leading to charges and assault convictions.
Crisco said he and his chief deputy spoke with organizer Jeremy Bertino, who assured the sheriff that they were there peacefully and tried to help the district offset additional security costs, such as paying for optional parking. “He made it very clear they were not there to cause any type of violence,” Crisco said of Bertino.
But Crisco acknowledged links to rally organizers and the Proud Boys.
“It’s been brought to my attention, yes,” he said of the connection.
Bertino and Thaxton did not return requests for comment. Thaxton had a Proud Boys graphic as his Facebook cover photo, the Stanly News and Press reported Thursday. The cover photo was changed to an image of a lighthouse hours later.
As of Saturday, Thaxton still had Proud Boy imagery on his Facebook page. He declined to tell the News and Press if he is an official member.
Crisco said he did not change security plans at the high school after learning of a Proud Boys link to the demonstration.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of a group it is. We’re there to protect everybody,” he said, describing protesters, counterprotesters, students and staff. “I don’t want to say we’re singling out any single group.”
The demonstration was still held, though it was a crowd of about 50 to 75 people, Crisco said, with “no issues whatever” stemming from the protest at a football game that didn’t happen.
Because the cheerleaders were in school uniforms when they posed with the Trump campaign sign at the Aug. 30 game, they were acting as representatives of the school, the school district said in a statement. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association administered the probation.
The district has received threats since then, Hope Miller, administrative assistant to the superintendent, previously told The Post. That puzzled district officials, she said; no student has been suspended or removed by the high school or the district following the picture’s circulation.
“They have all participated in every event since,” she said, adding that the word “probation” was probably not the best word for the warning against the students.
Marilyn Que Tucker, the commissioner of the NCHSAA, said in a statement that the measure isn’t a punishment.
“It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior that could bring additional sanctions, including penalties such as a fine or suspensions, should infractions persist,” she said.
Lateshia Beachum contributed to this report.