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Native Sun News: Rival students heckle Indian player at game

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

From left, St. Thomas More seniors Katy Freidel, Alayna Ackerman, Lauryn Weber, Theresa Poloncic, Taylor Oligmueller and Tyler Richardson heckle TJ Stover a Custer Wildcat Native American basketball player by wearing t-shirts that display INMATE on the front and STATE PENN on the back. (Photo by Kristina Barker/Rapid City Journal)

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA – How far is too far when it comes to heckling at high school basketball games?

The game was the Region 8A championship game at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City on Tuesday night, March 8, 2011, between the St. Thomas More Cavaliers and the Custer Wildcats.

Several St Thomas More seniors sported orange t-shirts with “INMATE” spray painted on the front and “STATE PENN” on the back to heckle a Custer Wildcat basketball player.

Lynne Big Eagle mother of T.J. Stover the student targeted by the hecklers said she believes the incident was not just bad sportsmanship but bordered on harassment. The incident stemmed she said from an October 31, 2009 altercation between several St Thomas More students and her son.

“T.J. ended up being charged with an assault because he hit one of them when one of them tried to take him down onto the ground. That’s in the past, it’s been taken care of, and he’s done what he had to do. Life goes on, that’s how it should be at basketball too you know,” Big Eagle said.

“But at the game the other day some of the St. Thomas More kids came to the basketball game wearing jail bird shirts with a chain around their necks holding this big white cardboard sign on their chests that had his name and numbers underneath it and on the back of the signs it had ‘prison bound,’” she said. “To me that was more hazing toward my son than anything.”

She said that during the game Activities Director and Custer High School Principal Paul Anderson went over to St. Thomas More Activities Director Craig Nowotny and asked them to remove the signs because posters and signs are not allowed at basketball playoffs.

“You’re supposed to have good conduct at the games, to me that wasn’t displaying very good conduct on St. Thomas More’s behalf because it targeted my son,” Big Eagle said.

St. Thomas More Principal Wayne Sullivan has apologized to her and her son for the incident.

Sullivan who said he is married to an Indian and has five children who are enrolled members of an Indian tribe, stated that by no means was there ever any intention of racism.

“We do not condone this behavior. It was taken care of between the two schools and it has been addressed,” he said.

Sullivan said that when the St. Thomas More students entered the Civic Center they had the signs hidden underneath their shirts. He said when the students took out the signs bearing Stover’s name and inmate number they were asked to remove them before the game began and that they were thrown into the trash. He said his staff did not know the students were going to bring in the signs and would never have allowed it to happen.

Custer High School’s stand on the incident is that St. Thomas More officials have apologized and they have accepted the apology.

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at

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