LAWNDALE, N.C. -- A prank involving goats, coupled with concerns about an E. coli outbreak, have forced a Cleveland County high school to move its athletic events to other schools for at least a week.
Burns High School, in the northern Cleveland County town of Lawndale, is playing football games and soccer matches at other teams’ fields after someone turned several goats loose inside Ron Greene Stadium behind the school last Thursday night.
Burns High Principal Aaron Allen said after talking with Cleveland County health officials, the school decided not to host athletic events for a while.
The prank comes while health officials in the county are trying to find the cause of an E. coli outbreak that sickened nearly 100 people, including a 2-year-old Gaston County boy who died from the illness. E. coli often is spread from animals to humans, and health officials believe the petting zoo at the Cleveland County Fair was the source of the recent outbreak. The bacteria can be carried in animal waste.
The goats used in the prank are owned by Burns High School and are part of the agriculture program. Sometime late Thursday, someone moved the goats from their barn and let them inside the stadium. Allen said the animals did not get on the playing field but were on a grassy area behind the scoreboard and on a portion of the track surrounding the field.
“We wanted to be careful about this, given the E. coli situation elsewhere in the county,” Allen said Tuesday. “We talked to Cleveland County health officials, and we also wanted some input from the state. That’s why we went ahead and made the move.”
Burns’ varsity football game last Friday against Rutherfordton-Spindale Central High was moved at the last minute to Crest High’s stadium, in the southern part of the county.
Two events this week – a boys’ soccer match Wednesday and a junior varsity football game Thursday – will be played at Shelby High. The varsity football team was previously scheduled to play a road game Friday.
“I know we take good care of our animals, so I’m not as concerned as I might be, if the goats had come from somewhere else,” Allen said. “But we’re playing it safe with this.”
School officials scrubbed down the track Tuesday and have roped off the grassy area where the goats grazed.
“We’ll have to let nature take its course on the soil areas,” Allen said.
Athletic officials hope health experts will deem the stadium safe by Nov. 2, when Burns High’s football team will be playing a first-round state playoff game, possibly at home.
E. coli outbreak
State health officials on Tuesday said their latest update on the number of cases in the Cleveland County Fair outbreak is 100, down six cases from the update issued late last week. Officials said Tuesday they determined several of the cases reported earlier as E. coli turned out not to be.
Cleveland County had 59 of the cases, with significant numbers also reported from Gaston (14), Lincoln (14) and Rutherford (6) counties. Cases also were reported from Catawba and Union counties in North Carolina, and from York and Cherokee counties in South Carolina. An earlier-reported Mecklenburg County case was among those determined not to be part of the outbreak.