basketball team at Kenmore East High School have a disturbing tradition.
"The whole team before our game has a ritual of saying 1-2-3 and then the N word," says Tyra Batts, the only African-American member of her Buffalo-area high school team. "It's a tradition that's been going on for years."
When Batts joined the team this year, with dreams of going on to play college basketball, she noticed her teammates would secretly huddle up for the alarmingly racist chant before every game.
"I would argue about it and say to not say it," Batts said in a home video submitted to the Buffalo News, "and they would tell me they're not racist, it's just a word. There was nothing I could do much before the game because I was outnumbered."
After confronting one of her teammates, she says she was verbally attacked with another racial slur. After that, the confrontation got physical and Batts was suspended for five days for initiating a fight. "It was a buildup of anger and frustration at being singled out of the whole team," she said.
When school officials didn't dig around enough to find out why the fight took place, Batts' parents called a local radio station and shared her story with the community. Finally, the school got a clue. Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro launched an inquiry and released a statement saying: "This type of insensitivity to one of our students is wrong, unacceptable, unfortunate, and will never, ever be tolerated." By Friday, the students who allegedly engaged in the chant were suspended for two days and the entire team was penalized with canceled practices, a game suspension and the return of a sportsmanship award earned last year.
But Batts isn't satisfied. There's the fact that she's considering not playing on the basketball team anymore, and she's still being penalized with three more days of suspension than her teammates. "I'm getting a lot of feedback that the team should be suspended for more than two days, longer than I have, because I actually fought for a reason," she said. "I didn't just do it out of nowhere."
While her teammates are now required to partake in "cultural sensitivity training", the administration hasn't commented on changing their own staff policies.
According to Tyra Batts, the chant was only a fraction of the racist remarks she'd been subjected to from her teammates. While her principal and school superintendent have personally apologized to the Batts family, officials may want to focus on larger efforts administrators can make to change the school's culture.
Why did it take Batts' parents' public plea for this outrageous tradition to be stopped? And how had no coaches or staff members heard this long-standing tradition taking place? School officials claim the students were secretive about their chant and after the fight broke out, administrators didn't get the "full" story because students were only in school one half day.
While it's never okay to use physical violence, Batts' reaction was a last-ditch effort in a situation where everyone had turned their backs. The school should be looking at why it had to get that far before a single student's voice was heard.
Now, other students at the school are sending their own message on Twitter. "Our school is racist" one student tweeted. Another classmate wrote simply, "I'm soo embarrassed to go to kenmore east."