Woodrow Wilson High School football coach Preston Brown told his players before Saturday's season opener that he planned to take a knee during the national anthem.
All but two of them followed his lead.
Brown and most of his assistant coaches along with nearly all of the players knelt while the national anthem was played on a hot, humid afternoon at Mike Rozier Stadium in East Camden.
"I still love America. I still love our military," Brown said. "But this was our way of saying that things have to change in our country. There's oppression, there's social injustice, and these kids live it."
Brown said he was inspired to kneel by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to sit during the national anthem of an NFL exhibition game has triggered a national debate and inspired other athletes to take similar actions.
Woodrow Wilson seniors Edwin Lopez and Tylers Parsons stood during the national anthem.
Lopez, a Rutgers recruit as a defensive back, said his teammates and coaches "have the right to so what they want" but felt strongly that he should stand.
"I've always stood for the national anthem and I wasn't going to let a little incident in the NFL change that," Lopez said. "I wasn't going to switched the script. That's not me."
Woodrow Wilson's team is predominantly black with several Hispanic players.
Highland senior two-way end Joe Tripoli, who is white, said the scene "bothered" him.
"I didn't think it was right -- I have a lot of family in the military," Tripoli said after Highland's 13-7 victory.
Highland senior running back Orlando Council, who is black, also expressed disappointment in the decision by the players and coaches from Woodrow Wilson.
"There are people out there every day risking their lives for us," Council said.
Brown, a second-year coach, is a Woodrow Wilson graduate. He played college football at Tulane University in New Orleans.
"There were things that I saw, things that I experienced as an African-American student-athlete in the South," Brown said. "I've seen what's happened to people that look like me."
Brown said he was again struck in the early days of another school year by the struggles of many of his players and other youngsters in Camden.
"You've got kids who are in a school system where there aren't enough quality teachers," Brown said. "They're hungry and they can't get 'seconds' at lunch. It's so many things that these kids go through."
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