The West Charlotte High School boys’ basketball team is keeping its focus on Tuesday night’s state quarterfinal game, despite multiple incidents that have provoked outrage from school supporters and raised questions around socioeconomic inequity, racism and privilege in local high school sports.
“The biggest thing is keeping them on a focused task. There’s a lot of outside noise with this [game],” said Cameron Carter, a documentarian who has been embedded with the team since October. “The parents, the faculty and the staff has tried to voice their opinions while we’ve tried to keep [the players] on the normal path and tried to make it seem like it’s a regular game. But at the end of the day, they read, they notice, they hear everything. So I wouldn’t say it’s redemption, but a lot of them are just ready to play.”
West Charlotte players thought they’d be playing against Independence High School in Tuesday’s game, Carter said, but when Ardrey Kell forward Royce Jarrett hit a game-winning shot against Independence on Saturday, the West Charlotte Lions got to work practicing for their next opponent.
What they didn’t expect is what came next.
The day after each team advanced past the round of 16 on Saturday, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced that the West Charlotte vs. Ardrey Kell matchup on Tuesday would be held at Vance High School in north Charlotte, despite West Charlotte being the higher-seeded team and earning home-court advantage.
The NCHSAA said the decision was made because the West Charlotte gym was too small to host the game, but many West Charlotte supporters saw the decision as another example of the ever-widening socioeconomic gap in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the privilege enjoyed by those on the upper end of that spectrum.
While just 10 percent of Ardrey Kell students are on free or reduced lunch, 98 percent of West Charlotte’s student body is. As was recently reported in Queen City Nerve’s Issue 7 cover story, CMS remains one of the most segregated school systems in the country, racially and socioeconomically.
CMS released a statement emphasizing that the decision to move the game was not made by the school system but by the NCHSAA, which has made similar decisions in the past.
Then on Monday night, news broke that Ardrey Kell’s starting point guard had been outed as using the n-word in reference to West Charlotte’s players in a Snapchat conversation. A screenshot of the conversation shows the Ardrey Kell player stating, “Bout to go fuck some more n***ers in the hood on Tuesday,” to which his friend replied, “Yessir.”
CMS announced last night that the player responsible for the post would not be playing in Tuesday night’s game and had been indefinitely suspended.
“Racist behavior and actions are repugnant to educational ideals, contrary to CMS and community values, and will not be tolerated within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,” read a statement from CMS. “The student-athlete has been suspended indefinitely from athletic participation. CMS also continues to investigate this matter and further disciplinary actions may be taken according to the CMS Student Code of Conduct.”
Despite the quick response from CMS and Ardrey Kell faculty, there has been a pattern of behavior from Ardrey Kell’s students that can’t be ignored.
In 2017, Ardrey Kell principal David Switzer kicked the entire student section out of a football game against Hough High School after the students became overly disruptive, yelling racial slurs at a visiting Black middle school student and spitting on their own band players.
Carter said the West Charlotte basketball players are well aware of that incident and other stories about the school from recent years.
“A lot of people don’t talk about all the things that happen. A lot of stuff happens over there with the different things that the students have gotten into, but it kind of gets swept under the rug,” Carter said. “It’s just more entitlement, like they’re untouchable, because that’s how everything has been projected over the years with where they live and who their parents are.”
While Carter said he’s disappointed in the behavior he’s seen over the past three days, he’s relieved that others will see it now, too.
“With [Ardrey Kell] hitting the game-winning shot and how everything has gone down since then it’s been like a domino effect,” Carter said. “I don’t want to say it’s a good thing, but this is also something that in the future will help make more people aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes. A lot of people feel like it’s 2019 and this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore, but there’s still a lot of it. And I felt that way before we ever saw what the kid posted.”
Still, the focus for the West Charlotte Lions remains making it to the state semifinals; North Carolina’s final four. Carter said that, while the media spotlight might place more attention on tonight’s game, he’s confident the West Charlotte supporters would show up in droves regardless of where the game is played.
And as for the players, they’ll be laced up and ready to go.
“I think the support system that will come out tonight will be very, very beneficial, but also show the inspiration that the West Charlotte community can bring out of a team,” Carter said. “The dream of a high school player is to play in front of 1,200 people in the ‘Elite 8’ of the high school playoffs. With you already having that motivation on top of this motivation, it will be very interesting to see the players respond.”
West Charlotte will play Ardrey Kell at 7 p.m. on March 5 at Vance High School, 7600 IBM Drive; Doors open at 5:30 p.m.