ASHLAND -- Ashland City Schools administrators and board members took time during a board meeting Monday to address what school officials said was a misunderstanding before the Arrows' home football game against Mansfield Senior on Friday.
Controversy erupted after Mansfield Senior players and coaches found a box of bananas in the visitors' locker room before the game and felt the fruit was left as an act of racism against a predominantly African-American team.
Ashland athletic director Jason Goings responded with a statement Saturday in which he apologized and offered the explanation that the fruit was left over from the cross country team.
Ashland Supt. Doug Marrah told board members he talked Monday with Mansfield Supt. Brian Garverick "a number of times" about the incident.
"We explained what happened and apologized for any misunderstanding in terms of what happened in the locker rooms," Marrah said.
Marrah said he also spoke with groundskeeper Tom Pellegrino, who confirmed bananas have been left in the locker room at various times in the 10 years he has been in the role.
Board member Mike Heimann referenced a quote from football coach Chioke Bradley in the Richland Source's original article about the incident.
"When he mentioned he's been there nine years and this is the first time they've had fruit there, that made me wonder," Heimann said. "'Is it periodically that we have some left?'"
Marrah responded, "It is. In talking with the people that manage the stadium, and that would be Tom (Pellegrino) and (maintenance worker) Rachel Britton, it depends on the week and how much is left. Occasionally, it's left in the officials' room instead of out there."
"It was definitely a misunderstanding, and we couldn't apologize more," Marrah said. "We certainly don't want anyone feeling as if our kids are doing anything intentional or unintentional in this case. We don't want anyone to feel disrespected or hurt."
Board president James Wolfe said students had nothing to do with leaving the bananas in the locker room.
As part of the district's internal discussion in response to the matter, Marrah said, school staff and administrators agreed the district should leave a note explaining the fruit in the future. More broadly, he said the district hopes to promote a greater level of cultural awareness in the district.
"We agreed that everybody in the league could benefit from a better understanding of cultural awareness and understanding of what's going on in different peoples' lives," Marrah said. "We feel like that's an important thing for us to spearhead as we go forward."
Heimann expressed empathy for students hurt by the situation.
"I don't want us to lose sight of the hurt or pain a child on their team would have felt walking in there with no explanation for what they found," Heimann said.
No other board members or members of the public commented on the matter at Monday's meeting.