The Leander Independent School District and Cedar Park High School have apologized to San Antonio Lanier High School for the behavior of a group of Cedar Park students during a boys basketball playoff game between the Timberwolves and Voks last Friday in San Antonio.
Lanier boys basketball coach Rudy Bernal and Tom Lopez, a longtime member of the SAISD board of trustees, said the Cedar Park students taunted Lanier with cheers that disparaged the Voks’ Hispanic ethnicity and questioned their citizenship.
“It took me back,” said Lopez, 59. “You relive some of the things you went through in the past and it irritates the heck out of you. But I was more worried for the kids and the effect it had on them. If these kids can get away with ‘Arizona, Arizona,’ what’s going to happen next?”
Lopez, a 1969 Lanier graduate who has been on the San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees for 28 years, attended the game at Blossom Athletic Center’s Littleton Gym.
Like Lopez, Bernal was taken aback by the taunting.
“All I could do was shake my head and say, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this,’” said Bernal, who has been head boys basketball coach at Lanier for 28 seasons. “It’s not the first time this has happened to us, but it still shakes you up when you hear stuff like that.”
The regional semifinal was played without incident on the court, but Lopez said tension between the schools’ fans was noticeable as they filed out of the gym.
“It got a little testy there for a little bit,” Lopez said.
Cedar Park beat the Voks 45-41 and won Saturday’s Region IV-4A final against Boerne Champion to earn a berth in this week’s University Interscholastic League state tournament in Austin.
"I want to make clear that we had no problems with their players and coaches," Bernal said. "Our problem was with some of their students in the stands."
The Cedar Park students, Bernal and Lopez said, chanted “USA, USA, USA,” a cheer usually heard at international competition featuring the United States. They also chanted “Arizona, Arizona, Arizona,” hailing a state that became ground zero for immigration reform last year when it passed a controversial immigration bill.
“Where I think they crossed the line was when their chants insinuated in a roundabout way – and, really, anybody could have figured it out – that Cedar Park was representing the United States and Lanier was representing Mexico,” said Gil Garza, SAISD executive athletic director. “Obviously, the chants displayed very poor taste and very bad sportsmanship.”
Bernal, Lopez and Garza said the Cedar Park students also chanted “It’s not soccer, it’s not soccer,” an apparent reference to the stereotype that Hispanics are better suited for soccer than basketball.
Garza and Lopez estimated the group numbered about 15 male students.
Lanier, is one of San Antonio’s oldest high schools and its student body is predominantly Hispanic. Every player on the Voks’ boys basketball team is Hispanic.
Cedar Park High School is in Cedar Park, which is about 15 miles northwest of Austin, and has a predominantly white enrollment. Every player on the Timberwolves' boys basketball team is white.
The joint apology by the Leander school district and Cedar Park was e-mailed to Lanier principal Miguel Elizondo on Wednesday, SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said. Elizondo also has received a letter of apology from Cedar Park principal Barbara Spelman.
Leander school district officials and Cedar Park administrators did not dispute the claims made by Bernal, Lopez, Garza and other SAISD officials at the game.
Dick Ellis, LISD director of communications, read a statement to kens5.com over the phone.
“The Leander Independent School District and Cedar Park High School regret the actions of some of our students during the recent basketball game with Lanier High School,” Ellis said. “The issue was immediately addressed after the game, and the school administration has taken appropriate disciplinary action.”
Ellis said Spelman and Chris Ross, Cedar Park head football coach and athletic coordinator, issued a formal apology to Lanier and “the community member who brought the issue to our attention.”
Ellis did not name the community member.
Price said SAISD superintendent Robert Duron spoke with Leander superintendent Bret A. Champion late Wednesday afternoon.
"He was very apologetic," Price said, referring to Champion.
Garza said Thursday he planned to recommend to Duron that the SAISD report the incident to the UIL.
"I think it's important that the UIL know what happened to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen again," Garza said. "The UIL needs to have this on record."
Garza said he expected to discuss the matter with Duron on Friday.
“I think the main concern we had was we wanted to make sure this would be addressed and be used as a way to teach these kids that this type of behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in this country,” Garza said. “Although there are differences among our people, we are all Americans.”
Bernal said his players were shaken by the taunting.
“We addressed it after the game,” he said. “The guys were upset. I told them the people who were saying that stuff are just ignorant. I also told them it’s probably not the last time we’ll run across something like that.”
Bernal, 56, said he was surprised no Cedar Park administrator stepped in to stop the taunting during the game.
“That’s what disappoints me the most,” Bernal said. “Where was the Cedar Park administration? Good sportsmanship is the No. 1 thing at all UIL events, and that was not good sportsmanship.”
Asked his thoughts on the apology, Bernal said: “I just think it was made only because somebody brought the situation up. If nothing had been said about it, I don’t think it would have been addressed.”
Cedar Park recently started a “No Place for Hate” student organization, Ellis said, adding that “initial awareness activities have taken place.”
“We are planning a faculty-student basketball game this month with a ‘No Place for Hate’ halftime program to involve the whole student body,” Ellis said, continuing to read the statement.
“We have high ethical standards for our students and we are disappointed when they don’t live up to them. We are using this unfortunate incident as a learning opportunity for our student body.”