CRESTON, Ia. — This is not the way any school district or small town wants to go viral.
But now Creston has no choice but to wrangle with the fallout after five high school students on the football team were photographed wearing white hoods, brandishing a Confederate flag and rifle and standing in front of a burning cross.
The image spread like wildfire across social media and instantly catapulted this Union County seat of 7,800 into the epicenter of our nation’s continuously churning debate on race.
Two of the school officials at the eye of the storm, high school principal Bill Messerole and Creston/Orient-Macksburg head football coach Brian Morrison, have spent the last two days dealing with the crisis.
Morrison, a 16-year veteran of the district who’s in his eighth year as head coach, kicked the five players off his high school team in what has become his most difficult week as an educator.
Morrison, wiping away tears as he spoke Thursday, said that he had agonized over whether to hold football practice Wednesday as the photo quickly spiraled into a national story.
But ultimately it was good for his students to return to some semblance of routine, he said, after spending time talking through the implications of what had happened.
“We met yesterday before practice and discussed as a team us moving forward, what this team means to the community,” said Morrison, who in 2014 took the squad to the Class 3A state semifinals at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. “People look up to us. If we did not present ourselves in a positive manner … whether you do right or wrong, if you’re a part of it, you’re a reflection of our team and past players and former coaches.
“So we try to have a positive influence not only in the high school but also in the community.”
The high school football team of 74 players — now 69 — has four racial minority athletes, including its 16-year-old varsity quarterback.
The Creston/O-M Panthers are 1-1 heading into Friday’s varsity game at Harlan, where there will be no official recognition of the incident.