Four California high school students find themselves in the middle of a battle over what crosses the line from patriotism to racism.
Camarillo High School student Austin Medeiros and three friends showed up to his school’s gymnasium Wednesday night for the junior varsity and varsity basketball games against rival Rio Mesa High School wearing American flag bandanas.
The high school student believed his group, who at previous games chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A” after the national anthem, was just showing off their patriotism. But their display of the red, white and blue led to their ejection from the game, a purported suspension and a student-led rally at the school in support of their so-called patriotism.
“We’ve done it always,” Medeiros said, according to the Ventura County Star. “It’s something we do. It’s the same group of friends. We always talk about it. We’re all very patriotic.”
If we’re doing it for patriotism, that’s fine. But if we’re doing it for something else that’s racially motivated, I’m not going to allow that.
- Camarillo Principal Glenn Lipman
Another ejected student, Stefan Valenzuela, claimed that the school’s associate principal came over to the stands before the game to warn students against making any racial remarks or cursing at opposing fans. The school official then asked the four students garbed in the bandanas to remove them.
Medeiros, Valenzuela and their two friends left the gymnasium, but returned at halftime with the bandanas on and kept chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.”
According to students, the bandana-wearing students were escorted from the game and handed down a five-day school suspension that was later rescinded.
But Camarillo Principal Glenn Lipman denied the students were suspended, saying instead that they were asked to leave campus and meet with him the following morning.
The bandana removal request was a precaution, Lipman said, because both Camarillo and Rio Mesa have diverse student bodies and the bandanas, as well as the “USA” chants, could be interpreted as racist or xenophobic statements.
Camarillo High’s student population is 47 percent white and 41 percent Latino, while Rio Mesa’s is 67 percent Latino and 22.5 percent white, according to the California Education Department.
Thanks to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, news of the incident spread quickly at the high school and led to a gathering of students Thursday morning in front of the school’s flagpole.
“To be honest, this is what I wanted to happen,” Medeiros told the Star. “I was texting people from the minute I got suspended to start blowing it up on social networking, email whoever they could, call whoever they could.”
During a meeting with students, Lipman said that wearing patriotic clothing was acceptable, but the chanting crossed the line.
“We wanted to make sure (the chant) wasn’t racially motivated, and I told the kids I just want to be sensitive to the feelings of everybody,” Lipman said. “If we’re doing it for patriotism, that’s fine. But if we’re doing it for something else that’s racially motivated, I’m not going to allow that.”
The Camarillo episode is just one of a number of recent incidents where alleged calls of patriotism at high school sporting events have drawn calls of racism.
In March of last year, people from the losing team of a Texas high school basketball game complained to the winning team's school officials after students chanted "USA, USA" in victory.
Alamo Heights in San Antonio is comprised of mostly white players while Edison high school made up of primarily Latino players.
The winning team's coach stopped the teenagers from chanting and the local school district apologized.