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Madison principal apologizes to Greene community

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Editor's note: the letter from the Madison County High School principal will be in the Sept. 23 issue of the Greene County Record in full.

A post-game action has cast a negative light on the Mountaineer’s first win of the season.

The team beat rival William Monroe in Greene Friday, 26-24, but it’s what occurred after that has garnered attention from the communities. A student-generated video posted via social media after the game showed players dancing and singing along to a song which included derogatory racial slurs. The arguably most offensive moment, however, came via a student’s Snapchat. The student, who reportedly isn’t a player on the Madison football team, posted “Y’all jus mad cause the dead guy don’t play no ma.”

The person referenced in the Snapchat is believed to be former William Monroe football player Josh Johnson who passed away this summer while on vacation in North Carolina. Madison honored Johnson in a pre-game ceremony with captains carrying a banner honoring the fallen Dragon.

Johnson’s stepmother, Johnson, posted via Facebook her distaste at the Snapchat. She said while she doesn’t put everyone who lives in Madison or plays on the team in the same boat, she doesn’t condone the disrespectful comments and videos that were made.

“Football is a game, someone’s life is not,” she posted. “There is a distinct difference in trash talking and disrespect.

“Racial slurs are never okay, it is 2021, and speaking poorly on a young man who tragically passed away leaving his friends and family at a complete loss is completely disgusting,” she added.

Johnson said she expects those involved to deal with repercussions for their actions and encouraged parents to talk to their kids and explain that this behavior is unacceptable.

Many agreed with Johnson, calling for the Mountaineers to end their season and encouraging the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to hand down a strict punishment.

On Monday, the school division issued a statement that due to the unsportsmanlike conduct that occurred Friday, all Madison football games for the week would be forfeited. This includes the junior varsity game that was scheduled for Tuesday and the varsity game scheduled for Friday at Page. According to the statement, the football program would use the week to restore itself to one that “practices, plays, wins and loses with respect and dignity at all times. We believe it’s important to foster these ideals in order to progress with a successful season for our Mountaineers.”

The statement thanked the community for supporting student athletes and partnering with the school division to model good sportsmanship at all activities and between interactions with opposing teams and one another.

On Tuesday, Madison County High School Principal Betty-Jo Wynham issued a letter to the communities of both Greene and Madison. She said the high school’s administrative team became aware of the incidents in question Saturday morning, after which they notified VHSL.

She said the video taken in the locker room of the players singing a Jeezy song was posted to Snapchat and then released via a fan from William Monroe on several social media platforms accusing players of singing a racist song. Wynham said all players have been interviewed and statements of how the singing of the song was perceived by others, as well as the song itself, were taken into consideration. She said there was no evidence that the song was directly intended for any specific person or group in the Dragon community. However, she said it’s not a song the football program or school endorses, nor would it be approved to be used in the celebration of a win.

“When viewing the short clip in isolation, it can communicate a message that wasn’t intended,” she wrote.

Wynham said after the game, coaching staff was utilized for crowd management and safety and thus none of them were in the locker room when the video was created. She said this isn’t excusable and has been brought to the forefront of safety and supervision practices to ensure weekly supervision plans are adhered to strictly at all times during all activities.

The forfeiture of games will allow for meaningful time to educate players using VHSL supplied resources relating to sportsmanship and anti-racism, said Wynham. The incident is being used to create improvements within all activities and athletics at the school.

As for the Snapchat referencing Johnson, Wynham confirmed it was made by a student who wasn’t in attendance at the game. She said separate consequences have been decided upon for the student and the family made contact with Johnson’s family over the weekend to extend an apology.

An additional accusation has spread throughout social media that a Mountaineer player made a comment before the game about running over the memorial painted jersey in the Greene end zone honoring Johnson. Wynham said the Madison administration has been in frequent contact with the Greene administration to determine when and where this was communicated.

“We recognize that sportsmanship must span beyond the field and that’s where Madison County could have done better,” Wynham wrote. “We believe it’s essential to pair education and restorative practices with the consequences. We will not stop with just a consequence, but will partner with coaches, teachers, families, community members and [VHSL] to help educate our athletes and entire school community. If not, I believe we fail to be the school we are designed to be. We are committed to educating our students, holding them accountable and also loving each one of them.

“The comment made by an individual from our school community is very disheartening as Madison County has mourned the loss of Josh Johnson since this summer after the tragic accident,” she continued. “I, as the MCHS principal, along with the MCHS football program and Madison community, are sorry for the emotional wounds this has caused the William Monroe community and send a sincere apology.”


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