Public backs high school wrestler Andrew Johnson who had to cut dreadlocks or forfeit match

BUENA, N.J. — Community leaders and residents turned out in force Wednesday night to show support for the Buena Regional High School wrestler who opted to cut his dreadlocks rather than forfeit a match last week. 

The Buena Regional Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss personnel matters as a result of the incident. No formal action was taken at the meeting.

Members of the public used the session as an opportunity to applaud junior Andrew Johnson, the Chiefs wrestler at the center of the controversy, for his composure in the face of a challenging situation. 

Johnson's story went viral when video showed the wrestler having his hair cut mat-side during a match against Oakcrest on Dec. 19. The video garnered reactions from professional athletes and political figures on social media. 

Johnson, who is black, was put on the spot to forfeit or cut his dreadlocks by official Alan Maloney, a white referee.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is investigating the matter, as is the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

Johnson opted to cut his hair and eventually won his match in overtime. 

The victory was little consolation to the humiliation many in attendance Wednesday night thought Johnson unjustly was forced to endure. 

"One thing I disagree with is it was a decision that he made," Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey said of Johnson choosing to cut his hair. "Sixteen years old, the pressure's on you and you have a split second to make a decision. No 16-year-old is going to make a decision in 90 seconds."

"And so wherever this investigation leads to, I think it ought to be carefully thought out and I hope that the right decisions are made from the state down," Coursey continued. "And again, we ought to applaud that young man for his actions (and the way he handled them)."  

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