By Adam S. Levy – Radar Staff Writer
Buffalo, New York’s Kenmore East High School is the epicenter of controversy Tuesday, where 11 members of their girls basketball team have been suspended for beginning their games with a pregame chant that incorporated the N-word.
“They huddled up in a circle and go ‘1-2-3,’ and say, [the N-word, spelled out,]” Tyra Batts, a 15-year-old sophomore who’s the only African-American player on the squad this season, told WIVB-TV in Buffalo. “It makes me feel sick to my stomach, and weird and awkward that I was in the locker room with them when they said it.”
Batts detailed the exchanges with her teammates over the chant to The Buffalo News.
“I said, ‘You’re not allowed to say that word because I don’t like that word,'” Batts told the paper. “They said, ‘You know we’re not racist, Tyra. It’s just a word, not a label.’ I was outnumbered.”
Banks’ parents told the TV station they’re proud of their daughter for taking a stand, and support her return to the team.
The scandal erupted after Batts got into a fight on Monday with a fellow player over the use of a slur. For her fight, Batts and the other girl got 5-day, out-of-school suspensions. The girls on the team who chanted the word will receive 2-day out-of-school suspensions, while the other members of the team will each be suspended for a game, according to the school’s superintendent, Mark P. Mondanaro.
Mondanaro and principal Patrick Heyden have apologized to Batts and her parents, while Batts told the paper only two of her teammates have apologized to her. Mondanaro, in reaction to the incident, also took back a sportsmanship award awarded to Kenmore East last year.
“The insensitive chant is absolutely unacceptable, insensitive and not representative of the diverse student body within the … school district,” Mondanaro said.
Former Kenmore East player Amber Schurter, who is bi-racial, says those calling racism don’t understand the culture of the team.
“We would all go into the locker room before the game, and we would chant 1-2-3 then we would say the N-word,” Schurter told ABC News. “If you don’t know the people on the team, then obviously you’re going to probably think this is a little weird and you’re going to look at them as kind of racist, I guess, but I know that they’re not.”