When a New Jersey high school girls basketball team entered a classroom they were assigned at a rival school to change before a game Saturday morning, they encountered an unsettling sight.
It was a black puppet, its eyes seemingly bulging and its neck wrapped with string attached to a pole with a basketball on the other end of the string.
First-year head coach Keshon Bennett of Plainfield High School told MyCentralJersey.com his team still played the game after seeing the puppet at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark — Plainfield lost 64-20 — and quickly departed afterward.
About half of Plainfield's population is black, NJ.com reported, citing current Census data, while Clark is about 93 percent white.
A photo was taken of the puppet and shared on social media:
As you might expect, Plainfield's district superintendent, Anna Belin-Pyles, wasn't happy, issuing a statement condemning intolerance.
"When made aware of the problem at Clark, I responded quickly and took decisive action on behalf of our student-athletes and our District," her statement read, NJ.com said. "We want to assure our students, parents, guardians, staff and community that this incident is being thoroughly and comprehensively investigated with the seriousness it deserves."
Clark district officials superintendent Edward Grande said the incident would be investigated and added that the Clark community "does not condone any demonstrations of intolerance."
But a woman who said she's the mother of an Arthur L. Johnson student told the outlet the puppet is a school project depicting NBA superstar LeBron James and not meant to send a racist message.
The woman, who asked NJ.com not to identify her to protect her son, said the puppet was created by a fellow student in her son's class and left on the pole to "keep it safe."
"The puppets must be modeled after a famous person. The child who made the puppet in question chose a famous basketball player," the woman wrote in a Facebook message to the outlet. "He also crafted a basketball and sewed it to the hand and let it dangle. My son also told me that the kid may have chosen to let it dangle OR is still in the process of sewing it to the hand and the needle is in the ball. Because the string is dangling, it was wrapped around, up and over the wooden holder. It was in no means meant to be anything more than that."
"I would hate for them, or anyone, to feel targeted and hurt," the woman added to NJ.com. "I also feel sorry for the boy who made a puppet of his favorite player, draped the basketball string around it to keep it safe, and now has to face this outrage."
Clark superintendent Edward Grande told the outlet puppetry is taught in the classroom where the puppet was spotted.
It's unclear why the Plainfield girls basketball team was given a classroom instead of a locker room prior to Saturday's game. TheBlaze on Tuesday contacted the Clark school district about why and for an update on the issue in general, but an official there only referred to the district's statement.
While some commenters on the Facebook page where the black puppet photo was posted said they're from Clark and know the school and don't believe the puppet's depiction was racist, others disagreed. One commenter added a photo of other puppets on the same pole, asking "where are the nooses" on them:
(H/T: The College Fix)