A homecoming tradition at a Texas high school is being derided as racially insensitive after students burned an effigy of a black player on an opposing football team at a ritual bonfire. The school district, however, says the display is not a “racial issue."
The “Vandal Bonfire” has been a tradition at Van High School, 70 miles east of Dallas, since the 1940s, according to a statement from the Van Independent School District to local radio station KEEL. Students, under adult supervision, light a large “V” that ignites the rest of the bonfire, atop which sits an effigy of the opposing team’s best player.
The bonfire lit this week included an effigy of a player from Brownsboro High School wearing a No. 8 jersey, the same number of the team’s star running back, who is black.
“Historically, the number on the player’s jersey at the top of the bonfire has always been the same number as the opposing team’s best player. This is by no means a racial issue and never has been,” the Van school district’s statement said. “Van would never promote, condone, or allow this long-standing tradition to target an opposing team or player because of their race. We understand that some people who are not familiar with our bonfire tradition could misinterpret photos or videos they may have seen on social media due to the current charged social and political climate.”
A video of the bonfire lighting was posted to the school district’s Facebook page, but quickly removed after the event drew criticism.
The school district in the statement said future homecoming bonfires “will not include a mock football player of the opposing team.”
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