By Lee Mueller

MARTIN – Unless somebody brings one to the game, the Confederate flag will not be hanging over what has become a controversial high school basketball game Friday in Eastern Kentucky.

To defuse a flap over display of the flag in the Allen Central Rebels’ gymnasium, officials have agreed "to remove any opportunity for there to be any distraction, be it a flag or a mascot," Floyd County schools Superintendent Paul Fanning said.

The decision to remove the Rebel symbols for the game was reached this week after a coach at David School, a small private Floyd County school with only eight players, attempted to boycott the game.

David coach and athletics director Ned Pillersdorf said the display of Confederate emblems was a form of taunting to his lone black player. But David’s board of directors overruled the coach and told him to play tonight’s game.

Officials cannot prevent spectators from bringing in flags tonight, Fanning conceded ("We have some constitutional issues there," he said), but Allen Central officials are preparing to deal with any developments.

"We want them to have as normal a basketball game as they can, under abnormal circumstances," said Fanning, an Alabama native who has been Floyd superintendent for seven years.

Pillersdorf told a wire service reporter that Allen Central fans last year waved Confederate flags at a black player on his team while he was shooting a free throw.

Allen Central athletics director Larry Maynard, however, produced an official scorebook at a school board meeting Wednesday, indicating David’s black player never shot a free throw during the game. Pillersdorf disagreed.

By now, however, issues surrounding the debate have stretched far beyond accuracy in scorekeeping.

"It’s been blown way out of proportion," Floyd County Attorney Keith Bartley said.

Wire stories circulated nationwide have created a "firestorm," said Maynard, and nearly everyone involved in the controversy claims to be receiving hate mail.

Maynard says the controversy was ignited last November by former board member Mickey McGuire "for whatever reason."

Before leaving office last year, McGuire questioned the use of Confederate symbols at Allen Central High and Allen Central Middle schools, which are located at Eastern on Ky. 80, near the Knott County line.

"I really feel sorry for the children because they sincerely have no racial motives and see no racial connotations to that flag whatsoever," said McGuire, a Prestonsburg lawyer. "Our children don’t know that, because the Floyd County school system never taught them the strong racial connotations that flag has almost anyplace else."

Floyd County schools have no black employees and few black students, he said. "We have been very insensitive to any black students playing against one of our teams," he said.

Some damage already has been done, Maynard said. "Our kids have endured negative and venomous attention locally, statewide and nationally," he told the Floyd board this week.

One student, an Allen Central cheerleader who in an interview referred to her black friends as "colored," was labeled the "Third-Worst Person in the World" on a recent cable TV show by commentator Keith Olbermann.

Maynard called Olbermann "an arrogant, elitist bully" for vilifying a Governor’s Scholar and one of his school’s top students.

"It would appear Mr. Olbermann has never heard of the NAACP — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," he said.

Last week, the Justice Resource Center filed a complaint with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association against the David School’s board of directors. The Louisville civil rights group praised Pillersdorf’s stand and questioned whether it was appropriate to subject the black player to that environment.

"I think it’s a question that needs to be addressed by the KHSAA, not Floyd County," McGuire said. "No black child should have to play in a game with the stigma of a Rebel flag flapping over them. I think that’s inappropriate today."

Brigid DeVries, KHSAA commissioner, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The Floyd board voted this week to ask the school’s site-based council to consider its symbols again. "If they want to change, they can do that," Fanning said.

David School principal Emma Kriz said her school condemns all forms of racism, but will not interfere in Allen Central’s policies.

About 100 people attended the board meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue, many of them carrying small Confederate flags or wearing Rebel flag stickers.

No one spoke against the display of the Rebel flag.

Samantha Moore, a 2004 Allen Central graduate, said the country has more important things to worry about — drugs in schools, for example — than a school flag.

"That flag’s been there for over 30 years," she said. "My opinion is: leave it alone."

Pillersdorf has coached the David team, and paid all its expenses, since it was organized five years ago.

In its second year of varsity play, however, the team still has not won a game. The Falcons were 0-14 going into last night’s game at Evarts; Allen Central is 10-4.

Pillersdorf did not appear eager to play tonight.

"Frankly, it wouldn’t break my heart if there was a huge snowstorm tonight and we had to cancel," he said.

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