PHILLIPSBURG - A controversial photograph showing a group of students posing with a black dummy and a noose around its neck has prompted those students and their lawyer to address the media.
According to Phillipsburg attorney Scott Wilhelm, all seven teens in the picture and the student who took the photo say their rivalry with another school may have clouded their thinking, and didn't consider the idea that the photo might offend people.
The picture shows a wrestling dummy wearing a shirt from Phillipsburg's rival Paulsboro High School, a Kittatinny singlet, and a noose around its neck.
Two of the Phillipsburg wrestlers are wearing pointed hoodies.
Some say the image suggests a lynching and view it as racist, others dismiss the comparison and see nothing here but rivalry.
The teens were present as Wilhelm read a prepared statement, which read in part: "When we spontaneously set the scene and posed for the photograph, our sole purpose was to promote school spirit and portray our wrestling team as victor over two of our archrivals."
The wrestlers say they are regretful for their actions. "We understand how some members of our community may be offended by our actions. For our actions that have harmed others, we apologize."
The debate has lit up on the Web and social media, and the wrestlers have now been scratched from the championship tournament scheduled for this weekend.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association reviewed the photo and determined it to be a flagrant violation of the association's Sportsmanship Rule that prohibits disrespect for an opponent.
Officials called it an appropriate response to a photo they believe has no place in high school sports.
The athletes also face three day suspensions from school.