Illinois State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith upheld a decision to cancel what's left of the East St. Louis boys track and field season, including the sectional and state meets.
The action reverses a vote taken in special session by members of the District 189 Board of Education just hours earlier on Monday. The board's vote was at odds with East St. Louis High School Superintendent Arthur Culver, who suspended the season after a brawl broke out in the stands of Clyde C. Jordan Stadium during the Southwestern Conference Meet on May 8.
Culver said his decision was "not easy," but stood by his original ruling after meeting with board members in closed session for nearly an hour.
"Based on the information gathered, tension among our teenagers and young adults remain high," Culver read from a prepared statement. "The altercation ... may not be over. By ending the boys' track and field season, we are attempting to ensure the safety of student athletes and spectators."
The quorum of board members present voted unanimously in opposition of Culver, who then made his appeal to the state superintendent's office.
“I have reviewed your decision to terminate the East St. Louis track and field season and I uphold your decision," Smith wrote in a letter to Culver.
The action follows an altercation that led to the cancellation of the conference meet after the first event had been run. Spectators began fighting in the stands and several East St. Louis athletes began fighting as well. At least three East St. Louis track team members have been suspended.
Students walked out of classes Monday and made the three-mile walk from East St. Louis Senior High School to the district office. They joined others from the community who don't believe the entire team should have to pay for the behavior of a few.
That was the perspective taken by members of the District 189 Board of Education on Monday.
"Our motion was to punish the students that were involved with the incident but reinstate the track team," said board president Kinnis Williams Sr., immediately after the vote. "The board felt every student should not be punished for something a few did and punish those that have done it, but let the other ones participate ...
"I'm pretty sure by now they know who was involved and who wasn't involved."
Belleville attorney Joslyn Sandifer said she would "seek legal remedy" against the state superintendent's ruling. Her firm was retained by the Raymond Miggs Sr., the grandfather of East Side senior Raymond Miggs III, who has recorded Illinois' best performance in the triple jump this season. He is a favorite to win the Class 2A state championship.
"We believe Mr. Miggs sits in one of the best seats of articulation because he is a senior, because he is scholarship eligible and because he is ranked in the top of the state for his event," said Sandifer, who said she ran track when she was a student at East Side. "The actions of the superintendent prejudices him specifically."
Miggs has signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his track career at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. His grandfather said the eventual value of the scholarship depends on Miggs' performance at the IHSA State Meet.
"I can get a scholarship out of East St. Louis because of the things I can do on the track," the younger Miggs told Culver and the school board. "For you to take sectionals and state away from means I opt out on getting a lot of money for my scholarship. I've got $10,000 now, but maybe I can get $7,000 more, maybe I can get $10,000 more, maybe I can get a full.
"There's a lot of good people in this room ... All of us didn't do that."
Apart from Miggs, several other East St. Louis athletes were considered contenders to place at the state meet, including senior Deante' Anderson and sophomore Willie Johnson, who have the top two times in the 400-meter sprint. The 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter relay teams also have posted top five times in Illinois this season.
Below is Culver's statement read out loud at the board meeting Monday morning:
"The decision to suspend the remainder of the boys East St. Louis Senior High School track season was not an easy one. Our investigation included video footage, information from administrators, security guards, a police officer and spectators. It also included information Southwest Conference superintendents received from their coaches, athletic directors, student athletes and parents. The information received from the superintendents was consistent with what we learned from our administrators, security guards and the police officer.
It is clear that the brawl ... included a significant number of Flyers track team members. It is difficult to determine which athletes went into the stands to fight or to break up the fighting. Regardless of the athlete's intent, the action of going into the stands escalated the situation and endangered themselves and others. After the incident was managed and security was escorting one of the perpetrators away from the scene, a significant number of Flyers track team members interfered and there was an attempt to fight the individual again.
Based on the information gathered, the tension among our teenager and young adults remains high. The altercation ... may not be over. By ending the boys track and field season, we are attempting to ensure the safety of student athletes and spectators.
Athletic events should be provided in a safe environment. At its core, athletics is designed to develop good leadership, good citizenship, good fellowship and good sportsmanlike behavior. As a community, we need to work on re-establishing these values."