COLUMBIA HEIGHTS (WCCO) — A Columbia Heights High School basketball player is recovering after another athlete punched him in the face.
Senior Zach Lofton’s team was playing Patrick Henry High School in a sectional playoff game Thursday night when things turned violent.
“He punched me. He stood over me and punched me,” said Zach, who’s at home in St. Paul recovering from the hit.
It’s an unexpected day off from class for him following that unexpected punch in the face in the second half of the game.
“The bump right here,” he said, as he pointed to the bump below his right eye. He also has scars on the top of that eye.
He blames the star athlete, Jeff Bright, from Patrick Henry High School. He thinks Bright lost his cool under pressure. Both teams were trying to advance towards the State tournament.
“I went up for a layup. He grabbed me. I didn’t know if he was trying to stay up or keep his balance. Then he let go. He hit me. He hit me in the eye,” Zach said. “And then I believe he tried to hit me again. I rolled over, and then people grabbed him. They all grabbed him, separated us. ”
Both benches cleared and everyone in the stands ran out onto the court.
“I literally jumped on the floor and tried to protect my baby,” said Zach’s mother, Tonia, who watched in horror from the bleachers.
When she finally raced down the steps and got to the floor, she couldn’t find Zach.
“It was chaotic. Very chaotic and scary for me as a mom,” she recalled. “It just hurts my heart. A mom never wants to see her son intentionally punched in the face, so that was real hard for me to watch. Real, real hard.”
The two later re-united with help from family and friends.
Columbia Heights Police Officers got called and got everyone out of the gym too.
Zach needed ice on his eye after Bright’s blow.
“I didn’t know if he was frustrated. I don’t know what was going on with him. He felt he needed to hit me,” Zach said, adding he doesn’t feel Bright needs to be charged with a crime.
Patrick Henry’s Coach told WCCO–TV on Thursday night that Bright is a good student and mild-mannered player. He’s highly regarded, but lost control after a play.
Patrick Henry’s coaches decided to forfeit the game, so now Columbia Heights will continue with the playoffs leading up to State.
Columbia Heights Police are not pushing the Hennepin County Attorney to charge Bright. Police see this as any other fight at a high school sports game, hockey included.
The Minneapolis School District provided a statement on the situation.
“Contributing to a safe and secure environment at school events is a top priority. Violent behavior is unacceptable and is not tolerated at school events. We have expressed our apologies to the Columbia Heights school district. We are committed to following the MPS discipline policy in all matters involving physical violence,” Stan Alleyne, Executive Director of Communications for Minneapolis Public Schools, wrote.
It’s time, Zach says, to move on and play ball again.
“It’s done. I forgive him. He did it. It’s over,” said Zach.