CLARK, NJ – The Arthur L. Johnson High School girls basketball team did not play a regularly scheduled conference game at Plainfield High School Thursday night, after the home team postponed earlier in the day.
“The game has been postponed at Plainfield’s request,” Clark Superintendent of Schools Edward Grande said.
This would have been the two teams’ first meeting since a game earlier in the month that was reportedly played without incident in Clark. After that game, Plainfield social media sites lit up with a photo of a black puppet, strung up by a string looped around its neck, a basketball attached to one end. The posts claimed the visiting Plainfield team was greeted by the display and that “rascism is alive and well.”
Plainfield coach Keshon Bennett declined to comment about Thursday’s canceled game, saying he had been instructed to direct inquiries to the Plainfield superintendent’s office. An email to Superintendent of Plainfield Public Schools Anna Belin-Pyles was not immediately returned.
Earlier in the day, however, Bennett told mycentraljersey.com that he requested the postponement because an investigation into the earlier incident is ongoing and he did not want to expose his player to further incident.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with it because the investigation is not complete,” he told the online news site. “I just don’t feel comfortable putting them [his players] in that position because it’s just been a lot for them, and without closure, they’re going into an unknown situation.”
“The other thing is that with the investigation pending, I could see a million things going wrong with them [A.L. Johnson’s team] coming to Plainfield. If something happens, then the whole narrative changes,” he told the site.
Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso, whose daughter plays on the team, declined to speculate on the cancelation.
"Our girls have never had any problems playing against the Plainfield girls,” Bonaccorso said. “Just like on that snowy Saturday morning, no problems. There were no known threats, it could be a pure business decision on their part."
Earlier in the week, the Plainfield players were awarded the "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit Award" before a home game against Westfield High School.
Superintendent of Plainfield Public Schools Anna Belin-Pyles said the award was presented to the team because "the girls basketball team displayed great self-discipline, respect, consideration and tolerance for others when at a recent game they turned a negative situation into a positive expression of respect, honesty, and love for others. A great display of character and sportsmanship."
An investigation into the initial incident continues and Grande said he did not know when it would be completed.