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Plant parents cry foul at victor's gloating

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 12:41 PM
TAMPA -

Was it an exuberant celebration of a landmark victory or a case of bad sportsmanship?

That depends on who you talk to.

Parents of volleyball players from Plant High say students from Wharton were rude, disrespectful and acted like buffoons during a closely contested match this week.

The principal from Wharton says his "Blue Crew" students are boisterous, energetic and love to support their teams. But he also admits that his players and even one of his assistant principals got caught up in the aftermath of a big win against their longtime nemesis.

Now it will be up to the Hillsborough County School District and the Florida High School Athletic Association to figure out if there was any wrongdoing. The organizations are investigating after a parent from Plant filed a complaint about the events that unfolded during and after Monday night's matchup that saw Wharton knock off Plant in four games.

Plant parents were not happy when Wharton students turned their backs when the other team's players were introduced and when they later appeared to chant obscenities when they didn't like a referee's call.

They also say Wharton fans taunted Plant players with rude sexual comments and then stormed the court after the big win.

And when hardly any Wharton girls gathered at the net to shake hands with the Plant girls in the postgame tradition, a Wharton assistant principal did nothing to intervene. As the parent of a Plant player tried to call out the assistant principal on the poor conduct, he responded, "What, is Plant not used to losing?"

Brad Woods, principal of Wharton, conceded Wednesday that students should not have stormed the court and that his players should have shaken hands. But he said fans and players alike were caught up in the jubilation of the moment.

As was Assistant Principal Kent Glover, apparently. "That comment did happen," Woods said. "It's not what should be happening. It's not what I expect from my administrator."

The principal said he was in and out of the gymnasium a couple of times Monday night when he could break away from an open house going on at the same time. He said he didn't witness any of the bad things that Plant parents say occurred.

"The Wharton student section is one of the most spirited groups," Woods said. "They take a tremendous amount of pride in supporting all of our teams. We have turned the corner with that group of students and they are cheering in a positive fashion."

He said he would not tolerate students being disrespectful during the national anthem. And he has no problem with them turning their backs when the other team is introduced; after all, he said, that's better than booing them.

Students sometimes chant "push it" when they disagree with a call, which sounds a lot like an obscenity.

"I don't support that," Woods said. "We are going to readdress that."

One of the biggest complaints from the Plant parents is that Glover did nothing to quell students' poor behavior. When the students started chanting what sounded like profanities, it was the referee who finally made them stop.

"Part of the reason they are there is to make sure the kids are behaving," said Jennifer Weston, whose daughter, Erin Osborn, plays on the Plant team. "And if they are not, they should be asked to leave."

Woods said he does not tolerate bad behavior from students.

"We're going to shut them down; we're going to throw them out," he said.

Ken Otero, deputy superintendent of the school district, said the matter was referred to the Office of Professional Standards for further investigation. That is standard procedure when anyone complains about a district employee, he said.

"There was some concern about the fans and the excitement coming onto the court," he said. "Does that happen a lot? No. But obviously it was a big game and the kids were excited."

Weston said the action on the court was spectacular. "It was a great match. It was a lot of fun to watch," she said. "I think win or lose, you need to be a good sport. Sometimes you see bad sportsmanship when a team loses, but you don't see it much when a team wins."

Woods admitted the aftermath of the big victory should have been handled better.

"Our players got caught up in the moment and celebrated with the fans rather than being gracious winners and congratulating Plant on a hard-fought game," the principal said. "We have to make sure we are going to win with dignity and lose with dignity."


rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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