By Albert Lin
The Phillipsburg (N.J.) School District is investigating a photo of what appears to be seven Phillipsburg High School wrestlers posed with a black wrestling dummy hanging from its neck. Two of the wrestlers have the hoods of their sweatshirts pulled up into points.
Superintendent George Chando confirmed to the Warren Reporter that the photo, which he said only came to the administration's attention recently, is being investigated. "This is a student matter that is currently under investigation and upon conclusion of the investigation, the district will take those actions necessary and allowable with law and district policies," Chando wrote in an email.
In a brief phone conversation with The (Easton, Pa.) Express-Times, Chando would not say whether officials have identified the seven teens or where the photo was taken, although it appears to be set in a school locker room or gym.
Wrestling coach Dave Post told The Express-Times, "I cannot comment on the situation, other than to say it is a private student matter that's currently under investigation."
The wrestling dummy in the photo is wearing a Paulsboro (N.J.) High School wrestling T-shirt. Host Phillipsburg defeated Paulsboro in a dual meet on Feb. 1. Both teams were ranked in The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger's top 10 at the time. Phillipsburg completed an undefeated season and won the Group 4 state title on Sunday.
Paulsboro Superintendent Walter Quint told the South Jersey Times that he spoke with Chando on Tuesday morning, with both superintendents expressing their disappointment in the students. "We've had a 15- or 20-year-history of outstanding wrestling contests between the two schools. In all cases, the wrestlers and teams have had good competition," Quint said. "This is just unfortunate. It diminishes two quality programs that respect each other. What was in that picture was just plain wrong."
Quint said that the racial implications—dark dummy, noose, pointed hoods—are hard to ignore and that the photo shows "a complete lack of the history and the prejudices" that Americans have worked to overcome.
The grandmother of an 11-year-old in Paulsboro's junior program had to explain to her grandson what lynching was. "When I saw [the photo] last night, I was just sick to my stomach," Patty Farrow told the South Jersey Times. "I got to see the picture and I had to really look at it to make sure no one was misinterpreting what that picture was, but there is no misinterpretation. That was white kids on a wrestling team lynching a Paulsboro wrestler. This transcends wrestling."
Phillipsburg is located in western New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Easton, Pa. As of the 2010 Census, the town's population was 83.4 percent white and 7.5 percent Black. Paulsboro is a suburb of Philadelphia, with a population that was 54.5 percent white and 36.7 percent Black in 2010.