Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA

Local news

February 25, 2012

School cracks down on gang activity

Patriots forfeit game

Rochelle — Following the suspension of three-fourths of the high school basketball team and forfeiture of a state playoff game, school and law enforcement officials in Wilcox County met Friday with all high school students to inform them of a “zero tolerance” attitude toward gang activity.

Wilcox County High School Patriots were forced to forfeit Friday night’s basketball tournament game vs. Randolph-Clay due to the involvement of nine of their players in alleged gang-related activity off campus on Thursday afternoon.

Patriot head coach George Kennedy said the school had nine players involved Thursday afternoon in an off-campus situation. Their actions led to their suspensions for disciplinary reasons, he acknowledged.

“With just three players left, we had no choice but to forfeit tonight’s game,” he said.

Concerning the actions taken to discipline the students, Superintendent Steve Smith said, “This wasn’t an easy decision. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever forfeited an athletic event in school history.

“Players are upset. Fans are upset, but we felt like it was in the best interest of the school to make this decision.”

Principal Chad Davis, along with Rochelle Police Chief M. Keith McDuffie met with the WCHS student body Friday afternoon to discuss the issue of gang activity in the area.

“Gang activity will not be tolerated at Wilcox County High School, period,” said principal Davis. “From this point on, anyone caught in any gang activity will no longer go to school here. It does not matter who you are.”

Davis went on to say that there are a lot of excellent students enrolled at WCHS. “They do not deserve to be tarnished by gang activity among their peers.”

He informed the students that if they come to school wearing their gang-related colors and acting like “gang bangers,” then they will be treated like gang bangers. School administrators know who is involved, he said, and situations will be handled in matters involving gang attire.

“We have elementary students looking at this high school wanting to be like our students,” Davis added. “If they see high schoolers wanting to be gang bangers, then they want to mimic that. One elementary school student and one middle school student already have been sent home suspended,” he said. “They do not need to be polluted by garbage.”

McDuffie echoed Davis’ comments, and warned students that the police department has partnered with the school to end gang activity in the community.

“Our department will not tolerate gangs and fighting within this community,” said McDuffie. “You are here to get an education, and you need to focus on that because once you have it no one can take that from you.”

McDuffie said it is senseless for the young people in the community to be running around wearing their gang colors trying to intimidate others. He reminded students that most of them have known each other since grade school and have been friends, but now they are consumed by hate over wearing a certain color.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “You know, I probably went to school with most of your parents, and I care about you all. Life is just too short for all this gang banging and carrying on.”

McDuffie further informed students that the police department will be increasing its patrol at night. “There will be zero tolerance for those involved in gang-related activity.

“We (the police department) have made our choice and now you have to make a choice. If you are over the age of 17, I can tell you now that if you are arrested it will cost around $700 to get out of jail.”

Referring to the school’s dress code, Principal Davis said all do-rags and bandanas are prohibited at Wilcox County High School. He also addressed several other issues that he says will be more stringently enforced.

Only females will be allowed to have pierced ears. Any student, male or female, is prohibited from wearing any other piercings in such places as their lips, tongue, nose, eyebrows, etc.

Anyone in violation of that policy will automatically receive two days of ISS (in school suspension). Any student wearing holes in their pants above the knee will also receive two days of ISS, he said.

Thursday’s incident is still under investigation, and no arrests have been made at this time.

As for the basketball team, the Patriots finished their season with a 20-5 record in what had been an otherwise promising season.

With the win accorded them by forfeit, Randolph-Clay’s boys, the No. 3 seed from Region 1-A, became the first Class A team in the Georgia High School Association to advance to next week’s Sweet 16 round.

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