GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Mother of a Page High School student posted on Facebook about an experience she calls a 'relentless attack from the sidelines.'
At a first round N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff match at Jordan High School in Durham, Nancy Pederson Winkler says her son Eric was verbally attacked by the opposing team's fans.
"Honestly, very gut-wrenching, my initial response was 'this cannot be possible, why would you do this,'" Nancy Winkler said when WFMY News 2 spoke with her.
"They were saying things like 'where's your dad, would your dad be proud of how you played today with that loss?'
"After they scored their second goal, I heard 'would your dad be proud of that one?' 18-year-old Eric Winkler said.
Winkler says Eric's father, and her husband, died three years ago from colon cancer. She says the rival fans must have used social media to research Eric's life because she says they also made 'vulgar comments' about his girlfriend.
"They said some very vulgar things that I couldn't repeat regarding his girlfriend," Nancy said.
Eric says heckling in the name of the game is common and accepted in any sport, but this time it went too far. He says he tried to be the bigger person.
"When it first happened I was like okay, that's pretty mean, but I tried not to pay attention to it," Eric said. "But then it kept going and going and then I was like; this is serious."
"We definitely exchanged some words but at the end of the day I realized what I was doing and stopped, it'll just keep them going and there's no need for that."
Eric says his dad was his best friend.
"My dad was always the one when I was mad or upset, would talk me out of it and make me happy again."
Nancy says soccer is Eric's happy place.
"Soccer is where he is the happiest and it was his coping mechanism when his father passed." Which only made is more frustrating for the Winkler family.
"Playing soccer is more or less my outlet," Eric said. "So when you bring it into my happy place it takes it away from me so now I don't know what my happy place is, but I still love the sport."
Nancy continued to express her frustrations in her Facebook post, which has more than 1,000 shares and 600 comments.
"The loss of my husband, Jarod and Eric's father, is by far the worst personal tragedy of our lives. That tragedy was exploited, and most concerning, used in a premeditated attack on him and our family in order to gain leverage in a soccer game. His very last soccer game, mind you, as he is a senior this year. He gets to carry that memory with him for the rest of his life. Their attacks were relentless, purposeful and utterly shameful."
Jordan High School says they are investigating the alleged incident in a statement:
"We are investigating the allegations of hurtful, personal statements made from spectators to members of the opposing team. The assistant principal, athletic director, and other adults at the game were working to ensure a safe environment and were not aware of the reported behaviors at the time. The statements reported would be against the values of respect and sportsmanship that we uphold at Jordan High."
The joint statement comes from Principal Susan Stewart Taylor and Athletic Director Shelba Levins.
Guilford County Schools says they were made aware of the alleged incident. Page High Principal Erik Naglee responded as follows:
“It is unfortunate and unacceptable that our student-athletes were subject to personal attacks during a recent soccer match. We expect our students to show good sportsmanship and fair play on and off the field, and we expect the same from our opponents. With that said, I’m proud of the strength of character our students showed that evening.”
The game in question was a North Carolina High School Athletic Association first-round contest in Durham on Thursday. Commissioner Que Tucker made the following statement:
“The NCHSAA is aware of the allegations made by Page High School players and fans concerning fan behavior and targeting of players in a first round playoff contest. The schools involved have administrators investigating the matter and they will report their findings to the NCHSAA accordingly. As is our policy the NCHSAA does not comment on disciplinary matters and any information about a particular event must come from the member school level. As our Board of Directors comes in at the end of this month, we will continue the ongoing conversation about how to improve sportsmanship and behavior at athletic events, examining if some more detailed policies are in order for examining concerning fan behavior and administrator roles in relation to crowd control.”
Eric says he won't let the actions of a few reflect on all of Jordan High School in Durham. He just doesn't want this to happen to anyone else.
"I have no problem with Jordan High School because I know there are good people at that school."
"We have to develop a culture that's not going to allow this type of behavior," Nancy said.