Fans at high school basketball games are always rowdy. But it seems when a Tokay High School player of Pakastani descent touched the ball or shot free throws, St. Mary’s students were led in chants of “USA, USA, USA.” Some felt that was over the line.
The player is senior Kashif Afzal. Some who weren’t paying much attention thought the chants of 'USA USA' were an expression of patriotism, until they figured out that it was directed at Afzal when he shot free throws.
After the game he tweeted “St. Mary’s fans when I was at the line USA, USA, USA. That’s the coldest thing I’ve ever witnessed and has happen to me.”
Fellow students on social media agreed, and so did Tokay administrators.
“That kind of thing doesn’t belong in sports or athletics at all,” said Eric Sandstrom, Principal at Tokay High School.
When they brought the chants to the attention of St. Mary’s officials, they put a halt to the chants.
To make matters worse, Tokay students were just reminded by teachers to represent their school well at sporting events, and not berate officials or belittle opponents.
“We’ve asked them not to do those things to other students at other schools, so when they see other students doing it, it’s like 'well why are they allowed to do that?’" Sandstrom said.
Some students we spoke with at St. Mary’s High in Stockton say the chants were not cool and gave the school a bad name. One student who was at the game claimed that he didn’t hear the chants, even though reportedly around 200 students in the visiting school bleacher section joined in. On the face of it, the chants didn’t seem objectionable except for the fact that they were targeted at Afzal.
“I honestly don’t think you could say it was meant to be patriotic; for that person it was a little more meaningful, a little more hurtful,” Sandstrom said.
Sandstrom says he doesn’t think the offending St. Mary’s students are mean spirited.
“Was it intentionally mean? I don’t think that’s what they meant, but that’s how it came out and that’s one of those things of getting our teenagers to learn how these things can be a little bit bigger than what they intended it to be,” Sandstrom said.
St. Mary’s principal Kathy Smith issued a statement late today saying the school has reached out to Afzal and issued a “sincere apology.” It went on to say:
“Our spirit moderator, spirit commissioner, administrators and faculty have discussed the issue and its ramifications and will use this incident as an opportunity for our students to learn more deeply what it means to respect and appreciate others and the differences that make each of us unique.
At St. Mary’s High School, we have a long tradition of educating our students to respect the dignity of all people. We renew our commitment to strengthen this tradition.”
Afzal apparently had no hand in a letter writing social media campaign to publicize the incident. He has refused to speak with the media but did issue a statement to the Lodi News Sentinel saying he didn’t wish to dwell on the issue and wanted to get past it and move ahead.