At least 11 high school girls from the Kenmore East varsity basketball team have been suspended and face other sanctions after sophomore Tyra Batts revealed that her teammates had a tradition of using the N word as their regular pre-locker room chant.
Batts, the only black member on the team, had tried to stop the girls from using the racial slur before blowing the whistle to Kenmore East officials, but members of the New York school varsity team continue to say the chant was a joke.
'It's just a word, not a label.'
Tyra Batts, 16, broke the story of Kenmore East's racially volatile tradition in a tape she sent to Buffalo News. The whole team before our game would have a ritual of saying 1-2-3 and then the N word, said Batts, who is the only African American on an otherwise all-white girls carsity team. N-I-G-G-E-R, no slang, no nothing. It's a tradition that's been going on for years.
Batts, a sophomore at Kenmore East, was shocked when she first heard the chant, which usually following a group prayer. When she first heard the chant at the team's opening game against Sweet Home High last week, she tried to get her teammates to stop.
I said, 'You're not allowed to say that word, because I don't like that word, she told Buffalo News.
But her teammates brushed her off.
They said, 'You know we're not racist, Tyra, she recalls. It's just a word, not a label.
When she tried to confront the girls again, Batts claims she was verbally attacked with another racial slur. The fight got physical, and Batts was suspended for five days for fighting. She felt angry, frustrated and very alone.
I was outlabel-- I was outnumbered, Tyra Batts concluded.
'Unacceptable, Insensitive and Not Representative'
When school officials didn't do enough to investigate why the fight took place, Batt's parents contacted a local radio station, and Tyra Batts decided to share her story with the national news.
In response, Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro launched a belated review of the fight that led to Batt's suspension, and was shocked to discover the years-long tradition of N word chanting as a pregame ritual. Claiming total ignorance of the tradition, Mondanaro said school administrators began investigating the minute they learned of it.
The results, as Mondanaro said in a conference, were astonishing. The insensitive chant is absolutely unacceptable, insensitive and not representative of the diverse student body, he told Batts in an official apology on behalf of his district.
Coach Bondgren Under Scrutiny
The issue, however, is far from resolved.
Once the story broke, the hihg school girls involved in the chants received two-day suspensions and a one game suspension for the season, as well as having practice canceled for a week. School officials and some teammates apologized to Batts and her family.
But beyond some as-yet-undetermined sanctions for several members of Batt's team, that is the extent of that the student were punished, and Batts feels that one person, in particular, is escaping blame altogether: the girls' varsity coach, Kristy Bondgren.
Although Batts can't be sure that Bondgren heard the girls' pre-game chants, in which the N word was frequently and loudly used, she does find it hard to believe that her coach missed some of the other racial slurs that were thrown her way.
According to Batts, racial jokes about slavery, shackles and picking cotton were all commonplace, and some teammates made comments about Batt's skin color. According to the Kenmore East sophomore, Bondgren did nothing to stop them.
Just a 'Joke'?
In the aftermath of Tyra Batts' revelations, some students have tweeted their embarrassment about the incident and their sympathy for Batts. My school is racist... one Twitter user wrote, while another tweeted, soooo ashamed to go to kenmore east.
Racial tension at the school, however, has visibily increased, according to Time reporters. And in an interview with a local radio station, one of Batt's teammates may have made things worse by painting the N word chant as a joke.
Amber Schurter, who is biracial, told WKBW-TV that the racially charged cheer wasn't racist at all, and that the chant, while sounding a little weird to people outside the school, wasn't a big deal in the locker room.
A spokesman for the Kenmore School District, who said the chant began last year when a black and white student said it to one another as a joke, begged to differ.
This is no laughing matter, he said. It is not a joke. It is serious.
Below, watch Tyra Batts blow the whistle on the N word chant: