The Riverside men’s basketball team’s season ended abruptly when a fight broke out nearing the final game of the regular season.
The Pirates faced off against East Chapel Hill High School on Friday, Feb. 4. With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, senior Jared Merchant went for a layup. Sophomore Jaden Butler got the rebound and tried to score, but it was blocked by East’s Marquez Cotton, who then pushed Butler. Four other players then surrounded Butler, who was pulled out of the crowd by Senior teammate Nicholas Spoon.
Butler then pushed East’s Jabari Best, and East’s James Riley threw a punch at Riverside sophomore Xavier McQueen.
Players from both benches ran onto the court, however no Riverside players got involved in the fight. As the referees retreated to the lobby, Riverside coaches and administrators – including head coach Brian Strickland – tried to pull players away from the fight. About a minute later, the fight was broken up and Riverside was sent downstairs by Strickland.
The game was postponed to the following Wednesday, but they never finished it. After reviewing video footage of the incident, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) issued a long list of penalties and suspensions. Five Riverside players were suspended for two games.Seven players were suspended for four games. Three of those seven did not engage in the altercation, but NCHSAA rules state that leaving the bench results in an automatic suspension.
As part of the suspension, players had to complete sportsmanship and leadership courses. Riverside senior and team captain, Jared Merchant, was not suspended but completed the courses with his teammates.
“I’m gonna be with them every step of the way,” Merchant said.
East Chapel Hill’s penalties were far less. Riley got suspended for throwing the punch and some other players were suspended. However, because referees left the gym when the fight started and video footage of the incident did not show the visiting team’s bench, additional fouls and ejections could not be given out.
The Pirates’ final two regular season games were forfeited, and the team finished the season with an 8-16 record and in sixth place in the DAC Conference.
“I felt like it was very uncharacteristic of our team and our program, ” Strickland said. “You have to be able to walk away sometimes.”
Editor’s note: a print-edition version of this story mistakenly reported that all of Riverside’s players were suspended, and only one of East Chapel Hill’s players were suspended.