News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Oct. 31, 2011
SPARTA, Ga. -- Under Friday night lights, a lot has changed since a little more than two weeks ago. One team finds itself in the media portrayed as bloodthirsty and hostile. The other team is on a losing streak; they're now trying to mend the broken pieces of what once was a thriving season.
It all began Oct. 14 in the small town of Sparta, Ga. Two rival teams battled for dominance under the lights, but another battle, outside the lines, between the Warren County Blue Devils and the Hancock Central Bulldogs will be the one remembered.
"We're only 22 miles away. It's bragging rights. Whoever wins has bragging rights for 364 days," said Zackery Harris, the head football coach for Hancock Central.
"You can't really look at it in isolation. It started the week before," he said.
He says during previous a game between his team and another opponent, Warren County players showed up and sprinkled taunts at the Bulldogs, and during the week, both teams turned to Facebook to do the same.
"There was a whole little conversation that I knew nothing about that had gone on between some of the players," Coach Harris told News 12.
"I had heard it. Plenty of people [were] like they had planned it like, they [were] planning on doing it while we [were] shaking hands or whatever," said Ed'Ricus Williams, a Warren County senior.
However, after the game, nothing happened when the two teams did shake. Warren County came out on top 21 to 2.
"We walked off the field, onto the track, and we walked onto the track all the way up towards the locker room, and we get to the locker room, and the locker room was locked," Williams said.
The Warren County manager with the key couldn't be found, and that's when Warren senior Ed'Ricus Williams turned around. He says he was startled by a commotion. He says he saw a number of Hancock players aggressively cornering two Warren players.
"They just start rushing, and when they rushed, I stepped up and pushed a guy, because he was coming in so fast from the side to where he could have just simply knocked out both of them, so to prevent that from happening, I pushed the dude," Williams told News 12.
And he says that's when a fight broke out. Williams says in a matter of minutes Hancock County law enforcement officials showed up.
"I get pushed by a police, and he's like, 'Get your 'A' back! Get your 'A' back!'" he said.
And then, they say the pepper spraying began.
"They were really sprayed pretty much point blank," said Warren County Schools Superintendent Carole Jean Carey.
"It's like [Hancock] on this side, we on this side, the police in the middle with their back turned to them spraying at us," Williams said.
As one Warren County player struggled to clear his eyes, Warren County says that's when a Hancock Central player smashed him in the back of the head with a helmet. As the Hancock player reloaded to swing again, they say that's when their head coach, David Daniel, stepped in.
"I was hit pretty hard. I was hit pretty hard," remembered Daniel.
And he was hit so hard that it knocked him out. After losing a tear duct and having his face rebuilt, he's doing better now.
"I can't do a lot right now. I don't have a lot of energy. It's been tough," Daniel said.
That night, Coach Daniel was rushed to University Hospital, and the fight was ultimately stopped, but now there's a giant rift between two schools as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation gets involved.
"The GBI, you know, they have trained investigators, and they're impartial, and part of what we're most concerned about has to do with the actions of uniformed security people," said Warren County Schools Superintendent Carole Jean Carey, who was also there that night.
In a document News 12 attained, she makes her case to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In the seven-page report there are shocking new allegations about how everything unfolded that night.
"When we returned to the school that night, I was given a phone, or I got a phone from one of our players, and there were the text messages sent from Mr. Blount's phone number," she said.
We're told by Hancock Superintendent Gwendolyn Jefferson Reeves that Marleau Blount is a volunteer coach for Hancock Central. Superintendent Carey reads directly from copies she says were taken of the texts.
"It says, 'How the f*** i know all about y'all lil b******t. You started this s*** last week. Remember you started this.' and then, at 11:25, 'You started this.' and at 11:29, 'Better stay yo stupid a** in Warren County before someone really gets hurt.' And at 11:42, 'Right, keep yo a** in Warren County this weekend.' Those are the messages I have," she said.
Back in Hanock County, Superintendent Gwendolyn Reeves hasn't seen the messages but says punishment will have to result if they're true.
"Of course. There has to be if it is true," Reeves said.
She says no players have been suspended, but after the GBI investigation concludes, they'll be punished if necessary.
"Whomever is responsible will be punished according to our policies and the student handbook. Absolutely," Reeves said.
But Warren County's goal is holding law enforcement responsible, too. One witness statement reported in the document describes the whole altercation as "police brutality."
"I just felt like our kids were not treated in a manner that they should have been treated," said Kaveous Preston, the principal at Warren County High.
In a sworn affidavit, Preston reported a confrontation he ran into with law enforcement.
"He went to uniformed officers to ask for their help in getting the children safely on the bus," Carey said.
The affidavit states those two officers were a Hancock County Sheriff's deputy and Hancock County School District Police Chief Glenn Ingram. It states that the deputy replied to Dr. Preston, saying, "I don't care who you are. Get your a** back before i whip your a** with this club."
But Preston tried again.
"And both of them reiterated what had just been said and sort of drew those batons or whatever they were," said Superintendent Carey.
News 12 tracked down Hancock County Sheriff Tomyln Primus to ask him if his men did anything wrong. As for the incident between the deputy and Preston, the sheriff denies it. He says his organization did everything they could to keep things safe.
"We enforced the law to the best of our ability to get the situation under control," said Sheriff Tomyln.
But back in Warren County, Williams isn't buying it. He says he was pepper-sprayed four times, and he says the first three times were indirect hits, but it was the fourth time that was so surreal.
"My mom, she was out there, and she saw what was going on, and she said she saw me like this, like when I was falling back. She saw me, so she ran over there, and she grabbed me from behind, and she was trying to tell the police, 'This is my son. This is my son. I have him. I got him.' So, the police sprayed both of us, and after he did that, I'm like, that was uncalled for," Williams said.
And Carey says in most of the other 41 witness statements she took, the Warren students felt they were targeted by law enforcement.
"No sir. That is not true. If you know anything -- if people understand that when you are being pepper sprayed or when pepper spray is sprayed, it does not discriminate on who it hits," said the sheriff.
"He couldn't sit there and say that they weren't targeting us, because I did not see not one Sparta player in person getting sprayed, I did not see one on Facebook saying how they got sprayed. None of that. All I saw was Warren County people: 'I got sprayed.' 'I got sprayed.' 'Did you get sprayed?' 'I got sprayed.' 'I got sprayed bad,'" Williams said.
But whatever the investigation concludes, both parties are sure about one thing -- that a football game is never worth the amount of pain and frustration that this one has caused.
"Sometimes the rivalries are taken too seriously," said Superintendent Carey.
"This is devastating -- very devastating, and it has really placed a dark cloud over the community," said Hancock Superintendent Reeves.
And Hancock Coach Harris says it's unfortunate as well. He says it's given his team a bad rep that they don't deserve. He says one of his boys was injured in the fight as well. And he says two were pepper sprayed, too.
But everything is still under investigation. GBI Special Agent Joe Wooten says they are actively investigating. Both superintendents say agents have been by their schools to question staff as well as students.
Ultimately, there is hope that something positive can come from this. Officials at both schools never want something like this to happen again. Also, both schools are already thinking about different ways of doing things. Their emphasis, of course, is on safety.