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Referee forces high school wrestler to cut dreadlocks or forfeit match, won't work in the district again

Community, school board calls emergency meeting

Image source: SNJ Today video screenshot

Outraged New Jersey parents and community members joined school board members for an emergency meeting Wednesday night after a high school wrestler was forced to cut his hair before his match last week.

Buena Regional School District Superintendent David Cappuccio announced during the meeting that the referee, Alan Maloney, would never officiate in the school district again, WPVI-TV reported.

"He's done working with our district," Cappuccio said at the meeting.

The New Jersey referee offered Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson an ultimatum just minutes before his Dec.19 bout. He was ordered to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the match.

What's the backstory?

The 16-year-old wrestler, who is black, had his hair covered and he had passed a pre-match screening.

However, Maloney said the teen's hair violated the rules.

"If an individual has hair longer than allowed, it must be contained in a legal hair cover that is attached to the ear guards," the rules state. "The wrestler opting to wear a legal hair cover must wear it to the weigh-in procedure..."

The referee was reportedly late and had missed the weigh-in meeting, but Johnson had been permitted to wear the head covering at prior matches.

The teen went along with the demand and allowed a trainer to cut his hair in front of spectators in the packed gymnasium.

"He was emotionally drained; he had tears coming down his eyes as his locks were being cut off," the family's attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, said during the public meeting. Johnson and his family did not attend the meeting.

The Johnson family supports the coach and trainer, the lawyer said.

"The blame here is on the referee," Speziali said.

The attorney said he has questioned whether or not administrators at the match should have done stepped in.

"Were there things that could've been done? Yes," Speziali said.

What did community members say?

Emotions ran high during the public comments portion of the Buena Regional school board meeting, according to KYW-TV.

"I couldn't believe that this pig would humiliate that kid on the mat," Steve Martinelli said. "What I saw made me sick to my stomach. I don't know who is at fault, that's their job to come to tell me what happened."

Some questioned whether or not race may have played a role in Maloney's demand.

"It doesn't matter if he was black, white, green, or purple, it broke my heart to watch that young man stand there and be humiliated like that," another person said at the meeting.

What else?

The state has launched an investigation into the matter, WPVI reported.

Also, the Interscholastic Athletic Association said it will not assign Maloney to further matches until a review of the investigation.

Speziali said that Johnson was scheduled for a Thursday match but won't be participating because of the media attention surrounding the situation. He is planning to wrestle again later this season.

One last thing…
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