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College of Charleston students kicked out of basketball game for protesting trustees who hired McConnell

Students Adrian Barry (left) and Corey Craig hold up a sign protesting the College of Charleston trustees before a women's basketball game Thursday night against Stephen F. Austin State University at TD Arena. Buy this photo

Two College of Charleston students on Thursday night were kicked out of a women's basketball game because they held up a sign bemoaning "corrupt" school trustees who hired Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the school's next president.

Adrian Barry said a public safety officer and a college staffer asked that he and Corey Craig leave TD Arena during the game against Stephen F. Austin State University.

"Go Cougs!" their banner said. "Fight our CORRUPT Trustees!"

The paper sign also included the website of Fight for C of C, the group opposed to McConnell's hiring, and a hashtag that the protesters use on Twitter.

College officials, though, said the duo was first asked to take down the sign but that they refused. A disclaimer on the back of their tickets, spokeswoman Melissa Whetzel noted, allowed officials to remove anyone whose conduct is deemed "offensive by management."

Barry, a 27-year-old senior majoring in political science, said the brief protest came as a last-minute idea to garner national attention for the cause.

They held up the banner for about 10 minutes and got a positive response from the crowd, Barry said.

He added that it is common practice to hoist signs at basketball games but that the authorities told them to leave anyway, he said. The two complied with the commands because, Barry said, they didn't want to be arrested.

"We knew that they're not really going to respond unless they're shamed on a national level," Barry said. "No one was upset about our presence. We don't think we were breaking any rules."

The Cougars lost the postseason match-up, 78-74, knocking the team out of the Women's Basketball Invitational semifinals.

Will Bryan, a spokesman for the college's athletics department, said a general policy against negative signs at games has been enforced in the past. The school typically limits signs berating the opposing team or its coach, he said.

The ticket disclaimer states the anyone "violating facility rules ... or whose conduct is deemed illegal, disorderly or offensive by management" can be ejected.

In Thursday night's instance, Bryan said, Barry and Craig had the option to roll up the sign and watch the game. When they didn't do that, Bryan said, they were asked to leave.

"The officer and the staff first asked them multiple times to take the sign down," Bryan said. "They refused. ... They weren't immediately ejected."

Barry said he had no knowledge of regulations against certain signs in the college's student handbook. Craig, a 27-year-old junior majoring in education, explained that stance to the uniformed officer who booted the duo from the arena, Barry said.

Outgoing President George Benson was sitting near the protesters when they first unfurled the sign.

They moved farther away from Benson once they realized that he was there. Barry said it was their attempt to avoid involving him in their show of dissension.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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