The superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools said Wednesday that Columbus High School would work to “mend some fences” after an incident at a girls basketball game Monday night at Omaha Burke.
“It's unfortunate that it's gotten as big as it's gotten,” Troy Loeffelholz said. “Our players and coaches have been kicking around some things we might do to help make the situation better.”
The dispute arose at the basketball game when Burke players wore special light-pink jerseys in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The uniforms technically were in violation of the Nebraska School Activities Association rule that says home teams must wear predominantly white jerseys.
Burke led the fifth-ranked Discoverers by a point at halftime, which is when Columbus coaches discussed the color of the uniforms with the officials. A technical foul then was called on Burke, Columbus made the subsequent two free throws and went on to win the game 62-47.
After a story Wednesday in The World-Herald about the dispute, Loeffelholz said his office had received several calls and emails either in support or critical of the Columbus team's actions. Phone calls intended for Columbus Athletic Director John Krogstrand, who brought the noncompliant Burke uniforms to the attention of the Columbus coaches, were forwarded to the superintendent's office.
Loeffelholz said the principals of the two schools have been talking and could come to an agreement about a joint fundraiser.
“We're going to send a letter of support to Burke,” he said. “Contrary to what a lot of people might think, our girls care and have done their own part to raise money for charity.”
Omaha Burke Athletic Director Kyle Rohrig said the Bulldogs harbor no ill-will toward Columbus after the incident.
“Columbus is a fine school district,” he said. “We've had great competition with them in the past, and in no way is this going to change things.”
One of the beneficiaries of the publicized flap could be Make-A-Wish, the recipient of $2,600 raised by Burke players and fans Monday night.
“We've gotten a lot of phone calls about what happened at that game,” said Brigette Young, president of the Nebraska Make-A-Wish Foundation. “We think it was a cool gesture by the Burke girls to wear those uniforms.”
Young said the publicity could lead to added donations for the charity, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.
The World-Herald will be making a $1,000 donation to Make-A-Wish.
“We granted a record number of wishes (111) in our last fiscal year,” she said. “And we've got over 100 kids waiting who are in the process of having wishes granted this year.”
One Nebraska parent whose child has had a wish granted is Tory Schwartz of Gering. Schwartz sent an email to Burke High School on Wednesday to commend the school for its support of Make-A-Wish.
“It was an unfortunate situation, in my opinion,” Schwartz said. “That organization is just phenomenal, and I wanted to make sure the Burke people knew how a lot of us felt.”
Schwartz and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. One, 6-year-old Ashtyn, is undergoing treatment for leukemia.
In his email to Burke, Schwartz said that “Even though your team didn't score more points, they get the ‘W' in the game of life.”
Many people who have posted online comments at Omaha.com mentioned the need for a greater emphasis on sportsmanship.
A 2009 game between DeKalb (Ill.) High School and Milwaukee Madison High presented one of the more compelling examples in a situation that resembled the Columbus-Burke game.
Just hours before a game, a Madison player learned of his mother's death. To deal with the grief, he asked his coach if he could still play.
The player hadn't been listed on that night's roster, and an automatic technical foul was called. The DeKalb player then intentionally missed the free throws, rolling the basketball out of bounds twice.
Loeffelholz said both schools can learn from what happened Monday night.
“I think if there had been better communication ahead of time that this might not have happened,” he said. “But our timing wasn't good when we talked to the officials at halftime because it gave the impression that we were whining.”
Jon Dolliver, the assistant director of the Nebraska School Activities Association, said Wednesday that he had spoken with the officials who worked the game.
“We talked about the way the situation was handled and how they wish they had handled it differently,” he said. “The fact they didn't address the uniforms at the start of the game was their biggest regret.”
Dolliver added that all of the state's high schools are encouraged to alert the NSAA when a fundraiser could be in violation of the rule book.
“We would try to work with the schools to make sure the rules aren't being broken,” he said. “That could mean pink shoes, pink socks or pink warm-up tops.”
The bottom line, Loeffelholz said, is that both schools move on from here.
“I think it was a learning lesson for everyone,” he said. “In the long run, hopefully some good will come out of all of this.”
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