GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Durham Public Schools is investigating after two Page High School students said they were taunted about their fathers' deaths during a playoff match at Jordan High School.
Senior goalkeeper Eric Winkler lost his father to cancer, something he said the opposing team learned on social media. Players say students from Jordan followed them on Instagram before Thursday night's match.
He said that students asked him where his father was several times from the sidelines -- comments that continued after the game.
“Even if it is the national championship, state championship, conference championship, any game, there’s no need to bring it up,” he said.
Winkler said he told a referee to listen to the comments being made off the field, but wasn't sure that the official heard them.
“I just want to bring awareness to this so it doesn’t happen to anyone else in the nation,” the high schooler said.
His teammate, Mason Powell said he was targeted too. He said that students taunted him about his own father, who took his own life several years ago.
“There’s allegations against him for embezzlement and money laundering and it was a very public affair,” Powell said.
He said he heard students chanting, "Where's the money?" and singing the song "Take the Money and Run."
“The louder they get, the worse it gets. It starts to affect the way you play, the way you feel, the way you act,” he said.
A spokesperson with Durham Public Schools said Monday that Jordan's principal was interviewing spectators at Thursday's match. The school issued a statement saying they were looking into the allegations of hurtful, personal statements made from spectators to Page players.
"The assistant principal, athletic director and other adults at the game were working to ensure a safe environment and were not aware of the reported behaviors at the time. The statements reported would be against the values of respect and sportsmanship that we uphold at Jordan High."
Commissioner Que Tucker of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association wrote in a statement that administrators from both schools would notify the board when their investigations are complete.
"As a staff, it is incredibly disappointing and disheartening to see so many instances of misbehavior by various parties involved in education-based athletics, be that players, coaches or fans. We expect better behavior from those in and around our member schools, and are examining ways that NCHSAA expectations for players, coaches, and particularly fans, can be better communicated and understood by those on the local level."
Powell said that he can brush the taunts off, but he worries about the effect harassment could have on other students.
“I know that if somebody isn’t as thick skinned as I am, or as used to it as I am, they could take it to heart and hurt themselves or others and there would be a tragedy on our hands,” he said.
Page High School's principal said Monday that it was unfortunate student-athletes were subject to attacks, but that they were proud of the players' strength of character.