NORMAN — The Timberwolves ended the week the way they began it — winning.
Eighth-ranked Norman North defeated Choctaw 14-6 on Friday, closing the door on one the most arduous weeks in program history.
The trouble began on Mach 21 at a tournament in Pensacola, Fla. Norman North was beating Arlington Country Day 3-1 when Arlington pitcher Jonathan Rodriguez struck North’s DJ Gasso after a play at the plate. Rodriguez was immediately ejected from the game, but the problems didn’t stop there.
Arlington catcher Brian Nacarreto then walked up behind Gasso and punched him from behind. That set off a bench-clearing brawl that ended the game. North was originally declared the winner of the third-place contest, but that decision was later amended to a double-forfeit.
The situation escalated after the game ended. In addition to several accounts of heckling by fans on both sides in the parking lot that led to several police complaints — later dropped — Arlington coach Ron Dickerson claimed hours after the game ended that North’s players were hurling racial epithets at his players. Many of the players on Arlington’s baseball team are Dominican, and a number are already signed to play Division 1 baseball in college.
Arlington Country Day, located in Jacksonville, Fla., is known for turning out high-quality athletes. The school withdrew from the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2010 after numerous run-ins with the FHSAA for breaking league rules, including an incident that cost the school $33,000 in 2002 after numerous recruiting violations came to light. The school now participates in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association.
Dickerson said he approached game officials in the fourth inning to complain about the language, and the official then approached the North bench. North coach Brian Aylor said the only thing that was mentioned in that conversation was a request to stop pointing to the Arlington side, something he said the T-Wolves were doing in response to obscene gestures coming from the Arlington dugout.
“At no point did we ever make any racial comments,” Aylor said. “We don’t do that, and we’ve never done that. That’s not who we are.”
Several attempts to contact SIAA league officials to obtain the official report were unsuccessful.
Back in Oklahoma, as the T-Wolves dealt with the fallout at home including injuries to several players, Dickerson’s comments pushed the story onto the national scene. Aylor didn’t learn about Dickerson’s comments, made late that night to the Pensacola News-Journal hours after the game ended and when North was on its way back to Oklahoma, until the next day and said he wasn’t contacted or given a chance to defend his team.
North’s administration investigated all the claims made against the team, and principal Bryan Young said there was no basis to the allegations of racial taunting. Media members who were on or near the field said they didn’t hear any racial slurs, though there was some talking going on between both teams.
OSSAA regulations require that any player who leaves the bench be suspended for one game, and anyone involved in an altercation miss at least two. Suspensions handed down by administrators for the incident kept a number of North’s players off the field in a 20-11 loss to Lawton on Monday, and several more out for North’s 11-4 victory over the Wolverines on Tuesday.
With Friday’s win, the Timberwolves hope to put to rest the incident and move forward with a team that has state tournament aspirations.
“I think the coaches and everyone is moving on,” Young said. “They’ll put it behind them and learn from it. They’re a good baseball team and they have some high expectations moving forward.”
The adversity the team has faced in the past week will ultimately help the team to grow, Aylor said.
“This has been a long week,” he said. “This isn’t the same team that went to Florida. Physically we’re missing some pieces, but emotionally it’s taken a toll as well. They have to fight through it and come out of it stronger, and I’m confident they will. But it’s going to take some time.”
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