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Watkins Mill football team kneels during national anthem before game

As the national anthem played before Friday night’s game, Watkins Mill football players took their stand with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by taking a knee on the Gaithersburg High sideline.

It was a scene that has become increasingly familiar at professional and scholastic athletic events, though not yet in Montgomery County.

“We just wanted to make a statement,” said junior quarterback Markel Grant, “that America is not what you think it is.”

Grant said the captains kneeled to call attention to many of the issues raised by Kaepernick, such as police brutality and racial inequalities. Watkins Mill Coach Mike Brown said one of the players asked him for permission before the game and he responded, “the choice is yours.”

“I said, ‘Think about what you’re doing. Understand why you’re doing it,'” said Brown, who stood with the coaching staff as the players kneeled.

Jenkins: Kaepernick reminds us that dissent is a form of patriotism, too

Hispanic/Latino and African American students make up three-fourths of Watkins Mill’s student population, according to Montgomery County Public Schools data. Watkins Mill Athletic Director Reggie Spears estimated more than 70 percent of the football team is African American.

Other high school football teams around the country have followed Kaepernick’s lead. The Virginian-Pilot reported that Maury in Norfolk kneeled in the end zone prior to its game against Grassfield, while schools in Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota also protested Friday during the national anthem.

At Gaithersburg, coaches from both sidelines said most of the crowd responded with indifference. Trojans Coach Kreg Kephart said he didn’t realize it happened until one of the sideline helpers showed him a photo and brought it to his attention.

“Those guys chose to exercise their free speech which they were certainly entitled too,” Kephart said. “I was a bit surprised but that’s what’s great about this country you have.”

Kapernick refuses to stand for national anthem to protest police killings

Grant said the captains plan to kneel again next week on the road against Damascus. Spears said the school had no plans to either encourage or discourage them from continuing to in future games.

“I look at it as a way to maybe introduce the topic of discussion with these kids,” Spears said. “Maybe this will open up an avenue for discussion.”

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