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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

GREENSBORO — Officials at Durham's Jordan High School say they are investigating allegations made by the mother of a Page boys soccer player that her son was taunted with chants about his deceased father during a playoff game Thursday night in Durham.

Nancy Winkler, whose son Eric is a senior goalkeeper for the Pirates, made a Facebook post at 4:22 p.m. Saturday. In the post, Winkler said she believes the students at Jordan targeted her son and another Page player based on information they learned from social media. Their taunts, she said, focused on family tragedies as students chanted "Where's your dad?" at her son during the game after peppering him with vulgar comments directed at his girlfriend, whose name they also had found on social media. Nancy Winkler's husband, Michael, died in 2015 after a lengthy battle with colon cancer.

Jordan's principal, Susan Stewart Taylor, and athletics director, Shelba Levins, released a statement Sunday.

"We are investigating the allegations of hurtful, personal statements made from spectators to members of the opposing team," the statement read. "The assistant principal, athletic director and other adults at the game were working to ensure a safe environment and were not aware of the reported behaviors at the time. The statements reported would be against the values of respect and sportsmanship that we uphold at Jordan High."

William "Chip" Sudderth, chief communications officer for Durham Public Schools, said Monday afternoon that "Principal Taylor is communicating with spectators who were in the stands at Thursday night's game and the investigation is continuing." Sudderth declined to make Taylor or Levins available to answer questions, and he did not say when he expected their investigation to be completed.

Page principal Erik Naglee issued a statement on the incident that read: "It is unfortunate and unacceptable that our student-athletes were subject to personal attacks during a recent soccer match. We expect our students to show good sportsmanship and fair play on and off the field, and we expect the same from our opponents. With that said, I'm proud of the strength of character our students showed that evening."

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker issued a statement Monday saying the association "is aware of the allegations." Tucker added, "We expect better behavior from those in and around our member schools and are examining ways that NCHSAA expectations for players, coaches and particularly fans, can be better communicated and understood by those on the local level."

Efforts to reach Nancy Winkler on Monday were unsuccessful. But as of 4:45 p.m. Monday, her Facebook post about the incident had nearly 670 comments, nearly all supporting her family, and nearly 1,400 shares. But for the Winklers, the damage has been done.

"The loss of my husband ... is by far the worst personal tragedy of our lives," Nancy Winkler wrote in her Facebook post. "That tragedy was exploited, and most concerning, used in a premeditated attack on (Eric) and our family in order to gain leverage in a soccer game."

She also said in her post that the Jordan students targeted another player whose "father committed suicide amidst allegations of embezzlement. These fans had researched this fact and shouted, 'Where's the money?' multiple times at him as well."

Page lost 2-0 to Jordan, which advanced to play Reynolds tonight in Winston-Salem in the second round of the playoffs. But the taunting didn't end after the game, Nancy Winkler said.

"When the game ended," she wrote in her Facebook post, "the verbal assault continued and escalated to an argument between my son and fans from Jordan. My older son, Jarod, who was also in attendance, proceeded to walk out onto the field and console and calm his brother. Jarod was then scolded by someone I presume was the athletic director and yelled at to 'get off the field.' "

Levins, Jordan's athletics director, has not addressed Nancy Winkler's allegations that she yelled at Jarod Winkler.

"I mean, honestly I cried from Durham back to Greensboro because it just ripped open a scab," Nancy Winkler told TV station WRAL in Raleigh. "My husband suffered and he fought, fought, fought to stay here for these kids."

"It was pretty tough on me because he was my best friend," Eric Winkler told WRAL. "Growing up he was always there for me and to hear, 'Where's your dad at?' That's pretty hard to swallow. I play soccer to get rid of my problems."

The taunting and verbal bullying the Winklers say they encountered Thursday night flies in the face of the NCHSAA's "Sportsmanship: Together we make the right call" initiative. On its website, the association says: "We know that if all players, coaches, officials and fans work together towards a common goal of exhibiting good sportsmanship, we can truly make an impact on the lives of student-athletes!"

The NCHSAA on its website does not spell out any penalties that could be imposed upon fans who direct inappropriate comments or chants at athletes during competition. But in its statement on the Page-Jordan game, Tucker wrote: "The schools involved have administrators investigating the matter and they will report their findings to the NCHSAA accordingly. As is our policy, the NCHSAA does not comment on disciplinary matters and any information about a particular event must come from the member school level. ... As our Board of Directors comes in at the end of this month, we will continue the ongoing conversation about how to improve sportsmanship and behavior at athletic events, examining if some more detailed policies are in order for examining concerning fan behavior and administrator roles in relation to crowd control."

Contact Joe Sirera at 336-373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraNR on Twitter.

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