"I said, 'You're not allowed to say that word because I don't like that word,'" she recalled. "They said, 'You know we're not racist, Tyra. It's just a word, not a label.' I was outnumbered."
Mark P. Mondanaro, superintendent of the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, said no coaches, administrators or other adults with the school were aware of the "psych-up tradition" until Tyra was suspended for getting into a fight with another player over the use of racial slurs during practice and before games. "The minute an adult knew, we started our inquiry and investigation," Mondanaro said Thursday.
The girls apparently used their brief, private locker room time to say the chant after coaches and other adults had left.
Tyra, 15, said that before the Sweet Home game, she argued with other players about the chant, but virtually no one took her side. "They said it's a tradition; they do it every year," she said.
Tyra added that her teammates would routinely make racial references and jokes during practice, including ones regarding slavery, shackles and "picking cotton." She said her coach, Kristy Bondgren, heard comments from other players about Tyra being black but was unaware of the pregame chant.
"This wasn't something that just developed this year," said Raymond Batts Jr., Tyra's father. "This is something that's been ongoing for quite some time."