CHARDON, Ohio - An Ohio school district is banning “thin blue line” flags after a high school football player carried one onto the field to honor local first responders, including a coach who is also a police officer.
“This display will not be a part of future pre-game activities at Chardon athletic contests,” Chardon Local Schools Superintendent Michael P. Hanlon Jr. wrote in a statement Monday. “In addition, measures will be put in place by our athletic director to review any planned pre-game displays for possible connections to any form of discrimination or particular political views.”
After the game last Friday, members of the community stirred up a debate over whether the display was an innocent move in support of local first responders or of it had racial connotations, prompting some residents to reach out to district administrators directly, according to Hanlon.
He said that running out onto the field with the flag “could be interpreted as a racially motivated action” and he also noted that district policy “does not permit engagement in political activity.”
Hanlon also acknowledged the schools’ close ties with first responders after a shooting at Chardon High School eight years ago left three students dead and injured two, including one who became paralyzed.
“It does not appear that this action was motivated by racism, rather a show of support for one of our coaches who serves as a police officer, as well as for the first responders in our community who have developed a special relationship with our school and students in the wake of our school tragedy of February 27, 2012,” Hanlon wrote.
Frank Hall, a former assistant football coach and teacher at the school, received national praise after he charged at the gunman and later prayed with the victims. Days after the shooting, he pushed back at the attention and said the real heroes were the emergency responders who rushed to the scene.
“I only wish I could have done more,” he said in 2012. “I'm not a hero. Just a football coach and a study hall teacher.”
The shooter, T.J. Lane, was 17 years old at the time. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Hall is credited with chasing him away and potentially saving more students from the gunfire.
In response to the district’s move to ban the flag, Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri demanded Hanlon’s resignation, according to Cleveland-based 19 News.
“Your letter sickens me and so many others that have reached out to me and expressed the same disgust with your inability to stand up and recognize their patriotism,” Spidalieri wrote in reference to the players who ran out alongside the flag.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.