Community hopes to heal as Creston football team takes to field without 5 students who sparked controversy

HARLAN, Iowa — In many ways, Friday night was a typical high school football night in Harlan.

The Cyclone marching band played the national anthem. The color guard twirled on the field. Fans and parents filled the stands.

But the visiting team was dealing with more than the usual pre-game jitters.

Creston’s team was rocked this week by the release of a photo Wednesday showing five players wearing white hoods and standing beside a burning cross.

The boys in the photo are no longer players, Creston coach Brian Morrison said Friday. Two of them were starters.

Morrison talked with the families Friday and the students “chose not to be a part of this football team moving forward,” he said. “They thought it was in the best interest of our team, themselves and their families.”

The students told him, he said, “We were dismissed and we’re going to live with those consequences.”

The school district said it was unable to describe the discipline the students faced, citing student privacy laws.

But several people in town told The World-Herald that the students had received nine-day suspensions.

Creston residents expressed a mixture of surprise, embarrassment and disgust after the photo of the students in Ku Klux Klan hoods was posted online. The photo also shows one of the students holding a rifle with a scope on it, and another is holding what looks to be a Confederate flag.

Friday night, most fans didn’t want to talk about the incident.

Amber Smith, 33, has a son who’s a freshman on Creston’s football team. She said she thought that the controversy was starting to subside. In its wake, she said, “I think the community will be stronger.”

Creston Athletic Director Jeff Bevins said the school is “in a process where we have to work to heal ourselves.”

He said he was encouraged that students and teachers were talking about what happened and having a dialogue about it. Moving on is not going to be an overnight process, he said, but “we have got to learn from this.”

Jamie and Megan Travis, the parents of one of the boys in the photo, issued a statement Friday that said, in part, “On behalf of the Travis Family, we sincerely apologize for the hurt and strife we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior that was expressed in the recent photo that was disseminated throughout various media sources.

“We understand that our son has conducted himself in a way that is inappropriate and has caused disruption in the community. Our son recognizes his poor judgment and respectfully asks forgiveness from his classmates, the school and the community. The photo in no way reflects our family values. Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.”

The parents added that they support the actions of school officials “as they impose the appropriate punishments on our son, including removing him from the football team.”

“Our goal is a peaceful resolution,” they said. “We want to move forward and embrace our community in eliminating racism in Creston.”

The Harlan Cyclones won Friday’s game, topping Creston 42-7.

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