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It wasn’t the way Marcaus Harris envisioned his 17th birthday wrapping up.
The Fike High junior was looking forward to celebrating with his football teammates following after the Golden Demons defeated Hunt 28-0 on Nov. 1 at Warrior Stadium. But during the postgame handshake line, Harris was involved in an altercation that not only ruined his birthday but also wrecked the postseason hopes for both the Demons and the Warriors.
Harris expressed his regret for his actions in an interview Friday after being contacted by the Times.
“I definitely do apologize — to the coaching staff and my teammates — just for the way I reacted to the situation,” he said. “And I apologize that we’re not going to be able to play in the playoffs. Even if I was suspended, I would still want my team to play in the playoffs.”
Harris was one of seven players — three from Fike and four from Hunt — suspended for fighting. Both teams saw their seasons come to a premature end by Wilson County Schools officials, including the coaches and athletic directors from both schools.
It’s that part that stings Harris, who freely admitted that he would have taken his punishment but wished his teammates and the Hunt players who weren’t involved in the fracas weren’t penalized. But such is the nature of team sports and while that type of action is no guarantee that it will prevent such occurrences in the future, it does send a sobering message that sportsmanship will always come first and there are consequences for one’s actions.
Instead of sitting around on his first day of suspension, Tuesday, Nov. 6, Harris volunteered to work at a nearby polling place on Election Day. Harris said a man from the neighborhood came by to ask for volunteer workers.
“I figured it was for a good cause, so I asked my mom and she said yeah,” Harris said.
Harris was given a sign that read, “Vote today” and he spent most of the day standing on a corner, holding it up to remind citizens of their civic duty. Harris caught the attention of U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, doing some Election Day stumping in his hometown on his way to an eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Butterfield was impressed with the young man’s determination to turn a negative into a positive experience and notified the Times.
“The fact that Marcaus was willing to perform a civic duty the day after being suspended speaks to his care for our community,” Butterfield said in a statement to the Times. “He had a positive attitude and he seems to have learned from this incident. I wish him well.”
Harris admitted he didn’t know much about politics or who Butterfield was prior to Election Day.
“It was a different experience. I don’t really know much about Mr. Butterfield, but he seems like a nice guy,” said Harris, adding that he “volunteered because it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Harris said that he liked helping out and looked “forward to volunteering for Peace Church and Brother Brad,” referring to Brad Perry, a minister at Peace Church who has spoken to the Fike football team.
But doing the right thing can sometimes be hard to do, as Harris learned the hard way. He said he wasn’t looking for trouble after the game but didn’t back down when it found him.
Harris and his mother, Shauntai Dugan, moved to Wilson last year from the Richmond, Virginia, area. This was his first season playing football at Fike.
Dugan said that her son had been threatened on social media prior to the game. Khari Haynes, another Fike player who lives with Dugan and Harris and for whom she is the guardian, said he was approached by Hunt players at the junior varsity game at Fike the night before and threatened as well.
“I didn’t let Marcaus go to the JV game because he had been threatened on social media all week,” she said.
Harris said that after the game, one of the Hunt players refused to shake his hand. Harsh words were exchanged and Harris said he was struck by another Hunt player and responded in kind. Harris denied making initial physical contact.
“They (school officials) said I leaned in and head-butted him, but I didn’t,” Harris said. “He said something out of character to me and I responded back to him (verbally) and his teammate punched me and we just started fighting.”
Harris said that he was originally given 10 days suspension, but that was reduced to five. The other players had their suspensions reduced from five to three days, he said.
Haynes, who was involved in the altercation, was not suspended. He said he was told it was because three Hunt players were on him. However, he got the brunt of the pepper spray used by Wilson County Sheriff’s deputies.
“It’s like a blur after that until I got my helmet taken off and pepper-sprayed,” Haynes said.
Dugan said that she was concerned the problems with the Hunt students would continue, since Harris hopes to play basketball for the Demons this season.
“I don’t want this to continue onto the basketball court when it comes time to play with that aggression,” she said.
For his part, Harris, who had not ever been in trouble at Fike prior to this incident, just wants to move on. He admitted to engaging in after-the-whistle contact during the game, in which film reveals him throwing a punch at a Hunt player. However, he was not penalized as was one of his teammates for a similar infraction later during the game.
However, Harris assures that he realizes the folly of engaging in physical confrontation, even when provoked, as he said he was.
“I learned a lot from this!” he said. “I learned that sometimes you just have to walk away. Sometimes it’s best to not say something and just keep it moving.”
Here’s to hoping that we can take Marcaus’ words to heart and any lingering bad blood between Hunt and Fike players, students or parents can be put to rest. Sometimes it just takes a handshake and an apology.