James T. Ingram

Should student leaders receive harsher punishment over acts of youthful indiscretion, while officials and politicians receive mere slaps on the wrists or awards for their alleged actions or actual convictions? That question arose from what has become a local high school altercation gone wrong and captured on video.

In that video, cheerleading squads from East St. Louis Senior High and Trinity Catholic High of Spanish Lake are shown participating in a brawl resulting from a February 1 cheer-off in which each cheerleading team, alternately, performed dueling routines replete with taunts and put-downs of the opposing squad.

At one point, a Trinity cheerleader violated the space of the East St. Louis cheerleaders, leading to shoving, which devolved quickly into punches being thrown. The video was captured by City of Champions TV videographer Larry Duncan Allen and soon went viral, with over 350,000 hits at press time.

Both cheerleading teams have since been suspended according to Dan Grumich, president of Trinity Catholic High School, and East St. Louis Superintendent Arthur R. Culver, over mission and safety issues.

And while the extent of the punishment may be arguably extreme for one incident, one can’t argue that the incident was wrong; but that blame could also be passed along to the cheer coaches who put these young people into a scenario that they perhaps were too emotionally immature to handle.

Recall that Superintendent Culver also cancelled the ESL Senior High boy’s track season following a brawl during the Southwestern Conference Championship boy’s track meet back in 2018.

But what of politicians and leaders, some being felons, who are convicted/ accused of actual crimes yet receive what amounts to a mockery of justice when it comes to their actions?

June Hamilton Dean, a former ESL official, was recently sentenced to a mere 30 months’ probation, a 10-year ban from public office, a $3,100 fine and 120 hours of community service after being found guilty of forgery and public contractor misconduct.

Despite the outcry from the ESL community, consisting of a letter writing campaign of over 100 citizens to Judge John O’Gara, asking for the maximum sentence, Dean was given what amounts to a slap on the wrist and a stiff-arm to an outraged public.

Joann Reed, the current mayor of Alorton, received a similar break after being removed from office back in 2013 following a guilty plea to a felony charge of smuggling a cell phone and food to her niece in the village jail. Reed was allowed to be reelected to the position because of a loophole in Illinois law that allows a felony to be erased if an “independent evaluator” determines the crime to be the result of substance abuse and provided that the official completes drug treatment and probation.

Superintendent Culver was sued in 2019 (along with the ESL Board of Education) in a five-count federal lawsuit by fired employee Yvette L. Jackson, who alleged that Culver made sexually explicit remarks about Jackson and other school staff and made “repeated unwelcome advances.” Culver and the board members denied the allegation ESL NAACP president Stanley Franklin presented Culver with the “Education and Commitment” award during their 65th Annual Freedom Fund Awards banquet amid the scandal.

Why are our youth can be crushed because of their youthful indiscretions and bad decision making, while convicted felons and other officials, who are suspected of being involved in areas of potential felonious activities, can thumb their nose at the system and maintain their good standing or capacity to move on to their next political hook-up?

Whatever happened to teachable moments, in which students are suspended and allowed to unpack their mistakes with the help of counselors, community and church leaders so that they may be restored to their leadership roles within the school? In communities like East St. Louis, cheerleading and athletics are often the very activities that keep students engaged and away from pitfalls such as teen pregnancy, drugs, gangs and other counterproductive lifestyles.

Likewise, these same teens see the mixed messages when felons, administrators and elected officials are acquitted, exonerated or given leniency despite their criminality and because of their political connections. It makes them become bitter, cynical and ultimately believers in the culture of entitlement that is the order of the day in ESL poli-tricks.

Email: jtingram_1960@yahoo.com; Twitter@JamesTIngram.

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