Student bruised by Broncos backlash


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Jan 22, 2006
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Student bruised by Broncos backlash
Pennsylvanian fears for safety after class jeered his jersey
By Julianne Bentley
Denver Post Staff Writer

All Joshua Vannoy wanted to do was to support the Denver Broncos before the AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers by wearing a John Elway jersey to his Beaver Falls, Pa., high school.

He expected a little ribbing.

He didn't expect his classmates to turn on him at Beaver Falls High School, to have to stay home from school because he fears for his safety or to make national headlines.

Today, his parents and attorney will meet with school officials to see if he can drop a course without failing and whether it's OK for him to return to school.

If not, he may transfer.

"I'm totally bummed," said Vannoy, 17. "I don't want to go back to school."

Vannoy's life changed Jan. 20 - the Friday before the playoff game - when his ethnic relations class teacher, a Steelers fan, told him to sit on the floor during an exam and required other students to throw paper at the boy.

The teacher, John Kelly, said that he was "just messing around" with Vannoy and that he's done it to others without any complaints. Kelly said what happened had nothing to do with his curriculum, where he teaches diversity by isolating students so they can experience prejudice.

"I was just joking around Friday afternoon before the big game, that's all," Kelly told The Denver Post on Saturday.

Vannoy hasn't attended school since. His friends told him that some students were threatening to hurt him if he returns, said Vannoy's attorney, Nicholas Frisk III.

Police have not been contacted about the alleged threats because the friends don't want to be involved, Frisk said.

"Students want to beat him up, want to fight him," Frisk said. "He doesn't feel safe there."

Ronald Miller, president of the Big Beaver Falls Area school board, said he was aware of the threats. The district is investigating, he said.

Frisk said Kelly is a popular teacher, and by Tuesday, students were wearing shirts that said "Free Kelly" on the front with "Go Steelers" blazed on back. Others wore ones that said, "I (heart) Kelly," Frisk said.

The school held an assembly Tuesday to inform students about what happened and to dissuade them from wearing the shirts.

"We can't control the kids, and high schoolers can be brutal," Frisk said.

Vannoy's father, Brian, hopes his son will return to school Monday.

"I told him, some things are gonna be said. You have to have a thick skin," Brian Vannoy said.

Neither the principal nor the superintendent returned phone calls for comment.

The controversy has even gotten the legendary Elway himself involved. He sent Vannoy a gift, scheduled to be delivered today after the meeting at the school.

Vannoy will watch the next Broncos game from an Elway Home brand reclining massage chair, with No. 7's signature on it.

"(Elway's) take on it was, no Broncos fan should have to sit on the floor," said Jennifer Ma guire, media representative for Elway Home.
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