GREENWOOD, Ind. (WTHR) – The video has made the rounds on social media. A Center Grove student flops on the ground in front of the basket while a Cathedral basketball player who has epilepsy shoots a free throw. Many have concluded the distraction was mocking Cathedral’s James Franklin. That’s the perception of the player and his family.
The backlash against Center Grove senior Fred Lyons has been strong and often vicious. Lyons says people have jumped to conclusions that are not true and attacked him for what was an unfortunate coincidence with no malice intended.
Lyons admits he was enthusiastically trying to distract Cathedral free throw shooters Friday night. He even ripped off his shirt and did the splits right in front of the basket.
The shot before that, he ripped off his shirt and held up to his chest a large photo of Cathedral’s Armaan Franklin’s mother. Armaan (no relation to James) missed both free throws.
"I just wanted people to know that I really didn't have any ill will intentions,” said Lyons during an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News Monday afternoon. “I was there to have fun at the game and to have other people have fun. I'm just really sorry that it went this way."
James Franklin came to the free throw line late in the first half. Lyons says he did not even know who James was until after the game.
"One of my friends said, 'Here. I'll reel you in like a fish.’ I said, ‘Alright.’ Then someone said, ‘Do the worm.’ I don't know how to do the worm. I said. ‘I'll just flop around like a fish out of water.’ That's exactly what I did. Well, I first tried to be sexy. Didn't work if you see the video. OK, time to flop around because I didn't get his attention. I looked at him. He wasn't looking at me, so I knew I had to do something more."
Lyons completely rejects the perception that he was mocking James Franklin, who had brain surgery last year that has stopped epileptic seizures he used to suffer, even during a game.
"I had no idea he had epilepsy until after the game when I was notified, and I did my best to apologize,” said Lyons, who said a man came up to him after the game to tell him about James and introduced James’ father. Lyons says he offered an apology to James’ father.
The Franklin family believes the flopping was intentional teasing.
"I was just really embarrassed at the moment when they did it in the game,” James said on Saturday in an interview with his mother, Tamieka. “That was just stuck in my head for the rest of the night. I was really humiliated, and I couldn't get past it."
"It's terrible that it happened to him,” said Lyons. “I would have flopped around with anybody else. If anybody else was at the line I would have done the exact same thing."
The Franklin family also says James heard yelling in the crowd about having a seizure.
“I definitely never said anything like that, because that's a terrible thing to say to someone else,” said Lyons, who also said he didn’t hear anyone else say it. “Not that I'm aware of, it was a very loud game."
People have strongly attacked Lyons on social media and he understands some people will still not believe him.
"It makes me upset because they don't know who I am,” said Lyons. “I don't know who they are either. I can't be mad at them for being mad at me."
Lyons and his father say that they met with Center Grove administrators for three hours on Saturday.
On Sunday, Fred went to Cathedral High School and met with athletic directors from both schools. Fred expected James to be at that meeting to apologize in person, but Fred was told James was too upset to attend.
Cathedral declined comment Monday and Center Grove did not respond to a message requesting comment.
Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox issued a statement:
“I have been in contact with both school administrations concerning the incident last Friday evening. The school administrators are communicating and using this controversial issue as a teachable moment for everyone involved. The IHSAA encourages their member schools to exercise their controls on the student and adult fan bases to insure a positive environment at every interscholastic event. Our office will support the considerations made by both schools in this matter. Additionally, our office will not issue any penalties to the student athletes playing in the contest as they were not guilty of any breaches of conduct.”