CORAOPOLIS (KDKA/AP) — The match-up between Cornell and Shenango started like any other high school football game with the playing of the National Anthem.

But it lacked other game night hallmarks: No marching band, no cheerleaders, empty seats and no Friday night lights. The 4:30 start time was a safety decision according to the superintendent, as was the decision to postpone the Homecoming dance.

The district has been receiving death threats ever since 12 out of 15 high school cheerleaders took a knee in peaceful protest during the national anthem on Sept. 30.

Friday, parents were torn as they watched from the mostly empty bleachers.

“The veterans, those gentlemen who were here, that to them was their representation, their heart, their meaning. It offended them and in that offense it carried in all this other dark energy,” said parent Crystal Champ.

“Hopefully these kids can see all of the trouble that this has caused and I think they should stick up for themselves and express their opinions, but I don’t think they should do it at the sake of others,” Gina Smiley said. “I don’t feel that police violence and racial issues are hand-and-hand with the National Anthem.”

Champ said the kids are clearly picking up some lessons from adults.

“Everyone is drawing from an area where they want to have hate and anger and screaming and yelling, and just to pick sides…what are we teaching the children?”

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Members of the VFW Post 402 in Coraopolis were invited to serve as color guard at the game and the kneeling didn’t sit well with them or others.

A heavily-doctored video of the incident had been circulating on social media and made the superintendent, Aaron Thomas, the center of it all.

In a statement, Thomas said:

“The Cornell School District has experienced a situation like no other in recent days. Due in large part to inaccuracies and arguments spread through social media, the school district has received phone calls and emails from across the country. Unfortunately, this communication is to express anger and displeasure over this situation and it has resulted in a great disturbance to the district.

“Simply put, things have gotten out of hand. Personally, I have been at the brunt of these attacks due to the inaccurate belief that I set up our local veterans to be protested in front of. That is the furthest thing from the truth and I would never set up, or orchestrate something such as that. I had the privilege to meet with members of the local VFW Post 402 Tuesday evening. I was able to apologize to the veterans as a group, and to also shed light on the false perceptions that are occurring over social media.

“We were all in agreement that it is time to move on and I believe a stronger relationship was built from our discussion. I look forward working with them in an extended manner in the future. The Cornell School District is looking to move beyond this as a district and community. We are a small, close-knit community and school and this has caused a great disruption for us. We are simply ready to move on.”

The VFW is still scheduled to serve as color guard during the high school’s home game against Sto-Rox on Oct. 21.

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