Many of the parents who were at the Class 2A state championship game between Seton Academy and Harrisburg on Saturday in Peoria say the team was subjected to racial taunts and discrimination. They say coach Brandon Thomas was protecting the safety of his players when he pulled them off the floor rather than accept their second place trophy.
But to the dismay of many parents, Seton Academy placed him on administrative leave.
They are a mostly African American team from just outside Chicago against a mostly white team from downstate. But the players, coaches and parents from Seton Academy had been working toward getting to this game the whole season.
They say they were excited until the game got underway. They say they were subjected to racial taunting from their opponents and the fans in the stands.
"A lot of these kids had never been through anything like that, this was all new to them. So they were visibly hurt and distraught over the event," said Seton assistant coach Art Kimber.
The team from Harrisburg went on to win the game. Afterward, witnesses say Seton coach Brandon Thomas went into the stands to defend his pregnant wife from verbal taunts. When security asked him to leave, he pulled his team off the floor, refusing to accept their state runner-up trophy.
"I definitely back his decision to take his team out of the hostile environment because he could not insure at that time that they would be safe," said Mark Weems, Sr.
When he got back to school, however, administrators placed the coach on paid administrative leave while they and the Illinois High School Athletic Association conducted an investigation.
That prompted nearly two dozen parents to come forward to ABC-7 tonight to show their support for the coach.
"It's bigger than basketball. It's about integrity, it's about dignity, it's about respect," Kimber said.
The principal at Seton Academy says Coach Thomas is on paid leave while the investigation continues.
Harrisburg High School meanwhile is facing an unrelated federal discrimination lawsuit by an African American former student. School officials did not respond calls, but they have reportedly denied allegations of racial taunting.