Eighteen-year-old Carlos Jarrett says coach John Decker, Jr. pulled a chain out of his pickup truck in the school parking lot and said, "Hey Carlos, do you want a ride?"
The reference was as clear as it was frightening: a reference to Jasper, Tex., where a white supremacist was convicted of chaining a black man to the back of a pickup and dragging him to his death.
"This is the biggest story we've followed to date because of the racial implications," said a local disc jockey in the town, Hendersonville, Tenn.
Jarrett says that Decker told him it was a joke. "That's not the way you joke with anyone, if you ask me," he added.
The school board didn't think so either, and Coach Decker was suspended for three days without pay. A letter of reprimand was placed in his personnel file. The coach even apologized.
But the boy's parents say that's not enough.
"We are Christian people," Jarrett's mother, Deborah, said. "We have forgiveness in our hearts, but we still feel something must be done about this."
On Thursday, with their son and their lawyer, the Jarrett's made a formal appeal to the school district. Meanwhile, Decker returned to a school where colleagues say he is well respected.
Students who know the coach say his comment was totally out of character. "I had his class last semester," one boy said. "He was pretty cool. I'm surprised."
"I think it was wrong," another student said. "I was shocked. I didn't think someone would do that. I didn't think Coach Decker would [do that]. He jokes around a lot, but I didn't think he would take it to that extreme."
If the accusation is true, he did take it to that extreme. Now the teacher finds both his career and his judgement in question.