A South Meck family fights for answers after a high school football game ends in violence
Last week, 18-year-old South Mecklenburg High School senior Jackson Cooper opened a group text from his lacrosse teammates. It was a video of a photo of his face on the whiteboard of a social studies classroom at Myers Park High School.
The photo was part of an article from the Charlotte Observer, and that article was being projected on the front of the classroom. In the picture, Cooper has two black eyes, his face is red, his nose is swollen.
"For a teacher at a school to go out and, you know, show my face in front of the classroom, that's embarrassing," Cooper said.
Jackson got those injuries Oct. 22 after South Meck's football team defeated Myers Park in a close game between rivals. He says he was trying to leave the stadium on the same sidewalk he had used to enter, when, he says, a small group of Myers Park football players — still in their pads — attacked him. Jackson's mother, Mindy Cooper, said this video from the social studies class is like rubbing salt in a wound that has had no time to heal.
"I still can't talk about it, because it upsets me so much that a teacher would do that," Mindy Cooper said through tears. "That, to me, was appalling. And I really, at that point, said, 'My gosh, this is a whole different ballgame.' And I couldn't wrap my brain around what was the purpose of that? What was he (the teacher) trying to accomplish?"
She asked that question in an email addressed to multiple administrators, including interim Myers Park Principal Maureen Furr. She also asked about the assault on her son. Furr addressed the classroom incident, but not the assault.
Furr wrote she was surprised and disturbed to learn Jackson was the topic of the lesson: “I could imagine no situation in which that would be appropriate, so I met with the teacher early this morning to discuss the matter. He explained that he often uses a story taken from a media source, (in this case the Charlotte Observer) to engage students in discussion. He told me he had no knowledge of what took place and did not think about the implications of using that particular story.”
She adds the teacher expressed his remorse and she wrote: "In no uncertain terms, I made clear that it was a serious error on his part on several levels, not the least of which is creating an embarrassing situation for your son.”
"It felt very like they were just trying to give the teacher an excuse, like they were trying to like excuse the teacher of what they had done and just be like, 'He does it as a current event thing, he didn't even know that it pertained about the schools'," Jackson Cooper said. "Yeah, you did. I mean, it says it at the beginning of the article. You knew what you were doing. It's just all a lie, and it's all just them trying to cover themselves up."
Although there’s been some communication from CMS since the initial incident, it’s mostly been initiated by the Cooper family. What they want is a face-to-face conversation and a concrete update. And at the very least, an apology for the assault.
So far, they say that hasn’t happened.
"I'm a taxpayer. This is my son. He's a student of CMS. What do I have to do to get a response?" Mindy Cooper said.
This is not the senior year Jackson Cooper was planning to have. He’s had to miss school for reconstruction surgery ,and take off time from his after-school job. It’s a story the family can’t escape.
"I am fairly convinced that if there is going to be any kind of disciplinary outcome, we will not see it until Myers Park is no longer in a playoff situation," Mindy Cooper said.
Both Myers Park and South Meck have advanced to the second round of the state football playoffs.
"It feels just fishy that it's like kicking the can down the road," Mindy Cooper said. "I guess if you were to call in someone from a crisis aspect and ask, 'How do we cover this?' Kick the can down the road. At least our players will continue to play. And you know, we won't be at a deficit for our football team. And hey, maybe this Cooper family will go away."
A bystander’s video shows a scene of chaos where Jackson was walking as he exited the football game. At least six Myers Park players are leaning over a fence above the sidewalk. There are several players in uniform mixed in with South Meck students on the sidewalk. Myers Park administrators are frantically trying to separate them. The video doesn’t show Jackson being punched. But it does show him dazed as he makes his way out of the crowd — his face red, his nose bloody.
The following week, several Myers Park administrators emailed Furr their accounts of what happened. WFAE obtained those emails through a public records request (see the emails below). Dean of Students Ebenezer Lancerio, wrote that “one of the MP football players broke from behind me and started to throw punches at the students.”
He didn’t know the number of the player or who he was, but said: “There was shoving and pushing from all directions. I also witnessed one Myers Park football player standing 10 feet above us use his helmet to hit people. There was fighting until I saw a police officer on the scene. The fight must have lasted 30 seconds to 1 minute.”
Mindy Cooper says there wasn’t enough security or a proper response to what was a contentious, rivalry game that was evident on the field and in the stands. The players couldn’t even conduct a post-game handshake.
"There should not have been an opportunity for them in that state of mind, after having come off of the football field, to be wandering around, to be anywhere other than the locker room decompressing — and somehow that didn't happen," she said.
The family doesn't know if any of the football players involved are facing disciplinary actions, and CMS would not answer that question when WFAE asked.
Although Myers Park principal Furr apologized on behalf of the social studies teacher who showed Jackson Cooper's bruised face in the Myers Park classroom, Mindy Cooper said she’s still waiting for an actual phone call — preferably from the teacher himself.
The family is also still waiting for an apology for the punches that caused Jackson’s face to need surgery —and that ended up being a part of a classroom lesson.
WFAE's Lisa Worf contributed to this story.