HOUSTON -- It only lasted a few seconds, but that's all it took for a three-syllable chant to mar a high school basketball playoff game in San Antonio this month, forcing school officials to apologize for the apparent racist taunts by students.
Alamo Heights High School, which has a predominantly white basketball team, had just edged out a victory in a regional playoff game March 3 against Thomas A. Edison High School, whose team is mostly Latino.
During the subsequent trophy presentation, about a dozen students from Alamo Heights began chanting "USA!" That celebration, however, was cut short by the Alamo Heights coach Andrew Brewer. But not before it was caught on video.
The taunting has sparked heated debate in San Antonio, a predominantly Latino city, in part because a similar incident occurred last year, involving two other high schools, one from the same school district as Edison High.
School officials from Alamo Heights quickly apologized, adding that some students identified in the video had been forced to apologize to the principal of Edison High.
"It is our position that the chant was inappropriate in that particular forum," said Richard Smith, a spokesman for the Alamo Heights Independent School District.
The district's superintendent, who says he has been dismayed by the media attention, also said the chanting was wrong.
"Cheering for our country should be done for patriotic reasons, not to offend other Americans," said Alamo Heights Superintendent Kevin Brown said in a statement.
Still, residents of San Antonio, a city that is 63 percent Latino and 150 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, are incensed that chanting occurred yet again. In an editorial, the San Antonio Express-News said, "No disciplinary action or apologies can remove the taint this incident cast on the Alamo Heights school district, its students and residents."
Chants of "USA" broke out last year after a game between Cedar Park, which is predominantly white, and Lanier, another mostly Latino school.
"Our kids try real hard and work extra hard to get to the regional tournament, and then we have to worry about them being subjected to this kind of insensitivity," Gil Garza, athletic director for the San Antonio Independent School District told the KENS5 television station. Edison High lies within the district.
"To be attacked about your ethnicity and being made to feel that you don't belong in this country is terrible," Garza continued. "Why can't people just applaud our kids? It just gets old and I'm sick of it. Once again, we're on pins and needles wondering what's going to happen."
The San Antonio Independent School District has filed an incident report with the University Interscholastic League, the governing athletic body for Texas public schools.
But despite the uproar, school officials say they want to put the issue to rest.
"We have full respect for how the Alamo Heights school district has handled this incident," said Sylvester Perez, interim superintendent for San Antonio Independent, in a statement. "The Edison High School principal has announced to his students and staff that the school is moving forward, and looks toward building on the good relationship between the schools."
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