Dayton Police and the Ohio High School Athletic Association are both investigating a Dunbar High School football player’s head-butting of a game official Saturday night, which led to the Wolverines forfeiting their game against Roger Bacon.
OHSAA Communications Director Tim Stried said Dunbar and Dayton Public Schools have cooperated fully, adding that the case appears to only involve one student.
“This is a very serious incident, and we will investigate it to the fullest extent possible,” Stried said.
The incident comes two weeks after a Dunbar-Stivers boys soccer game also was ended early by referees. According to OHSAA officials, a fight occurred in that soccer game, leading to the ejection of one player from each team. Because Dunbar was already playing short-handed, they no longer had enough players for the game to continue.
Both Dunbar and Dayton Public Schools have been on OHSAA probation over two years, stemming from two larger incidents involving adults. Stried said OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass would decide whether the additional incidents involving individual students would have any effect on the ongoing probation, which runs through June 2020 for all DPS schools and through 2022 for Dunbar.
Dayton Police responded to Welcome Stadium on Saturday after a Dunbar football player, while wearing his helmet, head-butted a game official, then tried to get in the face of another official before teammates and coaches steered him away. Officials ended the game immediately.
The incident happened with Roger Bacon leading 23-8 and driving deep in Dunbar territory with seven minutes left in the second quarter.
The game official told police that the player “became enraged” after a penalty was called on him and he was told to leave the field for a play, according to the police incident report. Dayton Police officials said the case is assigned to a detective and is under investigation.
Ben Ferree, OHSAA’s assistant director of officiating and sport management, said in his seven years with OHSAA he could not remember an incident in which a player assaulted a referee.
Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli both criticized and complimented the Dunbar football team on Tuesday.
“It’s not OK to have a variety of personal fouls in a football game. It’s not OK to have a student benched because of profanity,” Lolli said. “It’s not OK to have those kinds of disciplinary issues that would cause your athletic team to be known as a team that is not professional and does not exhibit sportsmanship.”
Lolli said neither DPS nor Dunbar condones the player’s behavior. She said it’s a good thing that the other players “self-policed” the issue rather than making it worse, saying, “that in itself shows the character and attitude change that’s occurred in the Dunbar football program is working.”
“I think it’s extremely important for our students and our community to understand that the Dunbar High School that is known for misbehavior through the OHSAA is no more,” Lolli said. “We are not tolerating the behaviors that would cause us to be in the news, or in the forefront of the OHSAA’s (attention). Our students know how they should behave, and we expect them to behave in that manner.”
DPS never announces student discipline decisions publicly, but she said the issue would be handled according to the student code of conduct.
“I can’t tell you whether there actually was discipline with any student,” Lolli said. “If there is an infraction, we have a policy that regulates that. We do have disciplinary code of conduct language that addresses assault.”
That code of conduct assault language — among the most serious “Level 3” offenses — refers to incidents causing “serious bodily injury,” which may not be present in this case. But there are other Level 2 and Level 3 offenses that include “contributing to a disruptive situation,” and “school disturbance.”
Over the weekend, Lolli issued an apology to the game officials, coaches, players and spectators. Dunbar Principal Sean Henry on Tuesday echoed Lolli’s apology and said Dunbar’s expectation of excellence was not met at the game. But he said the football and soccer issues are not indicative of a broad problem at Dunbar.
“The mischaracterization of a deficit of character at Dunbar is completely false,” Henry said. “We’re deeply repentive regarding the isolated scenario that happened.”
Lolli said the soccer issue stemmed from two players competing for the ball and getting badly tangled up, leading to pushing and an altercation. She said she is concerned about OHSAA’s response, calling the football incident “a serious infraction.” She said she hopes OHSAA will consider the individual nature of the incidents.
Stried said OHSAA does not publicly release the game officials’ reports on any competition. He said players who are ejected from a game are suspended from the following game, but there is no OHSAA rule mandating a harsher penalty for contact with an official. Stried said OHSAA continues to communicate with DPS and will review how the school district reacts to the incidents.
Dunbar has now had three athletic incidents “go viral” in less than three years.
In October 2016, a playoff-bound Dunbar football team discovered a player eligibility violation during the season finale. Amid the chaos, Dunbar then briefly tried to lose the game on purpose, intentionally throwing an interception and telling the opposing player to run to the end zone. OHSAA put DPS and Dunbar on three years probation in that case, and Dunbar was forced out of the playoffs.
In early 2018, the school failed to enforce mandatory suspensions against basketball players involved in a brawl. When one of those athletes later played in a tournament game, Dunbar was ejected from the tournament. DPS fought the case in court, with head coach Chuck Taylor testifying that the player in question was not on the court for the brawl
A judge put Dunbar back in the tournament over a DPS rival, and only after the tournament ended did new video come to light, showing the player did, in fact, participate in the brawl. OHSAA probations were extended, and Dunbar’s boys basketball team was banned from the 2019 postseason.