CRESTON, Iowa -- The racially-charged photo involving multiple Creston Community High School football players has taken its toll on the community and their teammates.
"I was friends with them for a while and I've been to their homes before." Kylan Smallwood is the Creston High School football team's starting quarterback and only African American athlete on the varsity team. "It was hard because everyone was asking me questions. Teachers were always coming up to me," he said.
Kylan said he immediately understood his positive reaction going forward to the photo was vital to help heal. "I just thought about it and how I had to handle it and look like a good leader for our school."
Austin Bloyd, another minority student, is also taking the high road.
"I just try to show love to everybody. Just being negative will escalate in a bad way," he said.
Both students are quick to interject anyone claiming the five kids underestimated the history and meaning behind the 'KKK' images in the photo.
"That was one of the main units in U.S. History. It was learning about that and it's definitely something they are knowledgeable about," Austin said.
Megan and Jamie Travis, the parents of one student involved in the photo, denounced their son's actions in a statement, saying:
"On behalf of the Travis Family, we sincerely apologize for the hurt and strife we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior that was expressed in the recent photo that was disseminated throughout various media sources.
"We understand that our son has conducted himself in a way that is inappropriate and has caused disruption in the community. Our son recognizes his poor judgment and respectfully asks forgiveness from his classmates, the school and the community. The photo in no way reflects our family values. Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.
"We support Mr. Messerole, Mr. Morrison, the school board and other school officials as they impose the appropriate punishments on our son, including removing him from the football team. Additionally, we support the school as they educate our son and his classmates in helping them understand cultural diversity. As a family we have also taken measures to insure that our son understands his actions and how they affect others.
"Our goal is a peaceful resolution. We want to move forward and embrace our community in eliminating racism in Creston."
Austin said the five players lost the right to represent 'Panther Pride.'
"They got what they deserved and the team now is a lot better."
Kylan says this week's controversy doesn't take away from the honor he will carry onto the field wearing black and red for his community.
"We are together, we are one. Those other five are not part of the team, so it's just us. We are family."
Now the eyes turn to that family on Friday night against rival Harlan, in an effort to prove what "Creston Strong" is all about.
Kylan said, "I think it's a lot bigger game now because we've always been rivals with Harlan. We want to bring smiles to people's faces around town."