Principal reverses decision, lets Perry Hall soccer team play

Its contentious dance is dead, but Perry Hall’s boys soccer team plays on.

On Friday, after further reviewing the Gators’ controversial celebration following Tuesday’s 2-1 Class 4A North Region quarterfinal victory at Dulaney, Perry Hall principal George Roberts reversed his decision to forfeit the team’s semifinal game, reviving its title hopes.

Dulaney fans complained that about a dozen Perry Hall players mocked them at game’s end, performing what they perceived as a derisive dance called The Bernie in front of their stands. The dance is a signature move of both the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice.

Roberts initially shut down the soccer season, but said he changed his mind after probing the matter more deeply. Perry Hall (6-7-3) will play at James Hubert Blake, in Silver Spring, at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Upon further investigation and receiving more information, I felt that it was in the best interest of the program [to continue],” Roberts said Friday at a news conference in the school lobby, which was brimming with players and their parents. “I think [the players] have learned from this, understanding their role as a high school athlete and student.”

Roberts added that “further appropriate disciplinary action will be taken” in the form of mandatory online sportsmanship training for all members of the soccer team provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Roberts’ about-face stunned the Gators’ players, who figured their season was over.

“Honestly, I’m shocked,” midfielder and co-captain Vinnie Magliano said. “It sounded like [the principal] was stuck on his decision, and for him to re-do it is amazing.”

Magliano said players were “devastated” and “heartbroken” at Roberts’ decision to terminate the season because a number of the Gators took part in “a harmless dance.”

“Dulaney [fans] emailed our coach about it,” he said. “They said we were doing sexual gestures. We were just happy that we won; we weren’t intending anything at them. I don’t see how you can get a sexual gesture out of leaning back and shaking your head.”

Sharon Sundstrom, a parent of a Dulaney player who was at Tuesday’s game, said the details of the dance shouldn’t matter. She said the fact that the Gators danced in the direction of the Dulaney cheering section was disrespectful, and she was “very disappointed” that Perry Hall reversed its decision.

“I don’t care what you call it, you don’t do a bump and grind dance in front of the spectators’ stands in front of the team you just beat,” Sundstrom said. “If they had gone and done that in front of the other stands [where the Perry Hall fans were located], I wouldn’t have said a word. …

“The message [Perry Hall] sent was to say it’s OK to walk over and do the bump and grind to the opposing fans.”

Tuesday wasn’t the first time Perry Hall’s players have performed The Bernie, said Chris White, a senior midfielder and co-captain.

“We’ve done it, probably, four times” without incident, White said. “We have a lot of friends at [Archbishop] Curley, and we saw them do it and thought, ‘Hey that’s pretty cool.’ I have a lot of club friends, and I’ve seen them do it. That’s a cool celebration.”

Players acknowledged, however, that this was the first time they’d performed in front of the other team’s stands — though it just happened that way, said Chad Bukowski, a senior back and co-captain.

“Ethan Muller scored the winning goal from right, on the side of the Dulaney fans,” Bukowski said. “We all ran over to congratulate him, and that’s where we did the dance. After we did it, we noticed we were on their side, and we turned around and said ‘That was not right.’ We didn’t mean to do that.”

Said White: “It was unfortunate, the place where we did it. We weren’t trying to rub it in anyone’s face. We never had any derogatory intentions. We all regret doing it, and we’re probably not going to do it ever again.”

At the same time, White said, the emotion of a close soccer game can lead to actions that aren’t always thought out ahead of time.

“This is an intense sport. When you get that one point you need to win, you go insane,” he said. “It’s a spur-of-the-moment thing. You have all of this adrenaline, and you’re not thinking, in the back of your head, what celebration to do.”

Word of the incident made its way to the Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills, where Suggs and Rice applauded Friday’s decision to reverse the forfeit.

“I think the [original] punishment was too harsh,” said Suggs, the linebacker who helped popularize The Bernie by doing it after making a sack. “I was just flattered that they did [the dance].

“I did it on Monday Night Football, but I didn’t tweet or say, ‘Everybody should do this.’ Maybe the kids saw me and did it. I think it was way too harsh for them to get [a forfeit] because they were happy and did the dance.”

Rice agreed.

“The dance is harmless,” the running back said. “I don’t think it’s lewd. I don’t think it’s offensive in any way. It’s not promoting violence. It’s just all fun and celebration.

“I’m glad the kids’ [playoff game] got reinstated. You just don’t want to take that shine away from them. For some of these kids who are seniors, just imagine if this had been their last game because of a ruling that would have ruined their whole season, because of a celebration. That could have been a kid’s last high school experience, and imagine him waking up and saying, ‘We were going to states, and we didn’t get a chance to go because we did the Bernie dance.’

“It just wouldn’t end right.”

Roberts said Thursday that he made the decision to end the team’s season after more than eight hours interviewing players and coaches and reading emails from fans in attendance.

Dulaney coach Jerry Tana said his school filed a report after a number of parents complained, but he did not expect Perry Hall to go so far as to forfeit the next game.

“I feel good that they’re allowed to play,” Tana said. “The thing I want to make very clear is that Dulaney, in reporting the incident, never asked for them to be removed from the tournament. … Obviously we wish that this never happened, and we hope this serves as an example that sportsmanship will be expected of all high school programs.”

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, supported Roberts’ original decision to forfeit Perry Hall’s postseason game. Reached Friday, Sparks said the organization prefers that schools handle such matters internally, but that if a formal complaint is made, the state soccer tournament committee will investigate.

While the MPSSAA has rules regarding conduct detrimental to the tournament, Sparks said he could not recall an incident similar to this one.

“Who knows what the real truth is? Somewhere in the middle, I’m sure,” Sparks said. “The playoffs are really a minor part of this whole thing. If kids who come through our athletic program can’t learn sportsmanship, or how to treat victory and defeat as lessons for life, then we might as well not exist.”

Should Perry Hall win its playoff game Saturday, how will the players react?

“I’m scared to celebrate,” said White. “I don’t know what to do now.”

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

xcxceckard@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporters Edward Lee and David Selig contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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