Thursday, June 21, 2007

Anger at Coach Fuels Racial Divide in Rural Colorado

LA JARA, Colo. — The photograph, of four popular high school students standing side by side, each clutching a gun in one hand and giving a stiff-armed Nazi salute with the other, terrified many people in La Jara and the surrounding poor farming communities of the San Luis Valley. Its discovery further intensified a bitter racial divide between supporters of a longtime coach, who is black, and a largely white group of students and their parents.

What began as a dispute over playing time on the football field has, in recent months, led to the closing of the school, Centauri High, for a day, the postponement of the prom and a series of emotional community meetings. Tensions between opposing factions have grown so pronounced that some people fear they are tearing apart a remote region in southern Colorado near the New Mexico border that is more diverse than many in the state.

...All four were part of a group that in the fall of 2005 clashed with the veteran coach, Larry Joe Hunt, one of only a handful of African-Americans who live in Alamosa, near La Jara, where white and Hispanic residents predominate.

The boys, all members of the varsity football squad, were upset by what they felt was a lack of playing time and by what they called offensive language in hip-hop songs that Mr. Hunt, known for his intensity, played before games, said Cas Garcia, a lawyer representing the family of Trey Jackson. The boys, their parents and some other team members took their complaints to local school district officials but felt they were ignored, Mr. Garcia said.

This year, the dispute turned ugly when, according to Mr. Hunt’s son, Colby, 17, the players and their friends, who are white and Hispanic, began to insult Colby and other students who support the coach. Once, Colby recalled, they discussed, just loudly enough for him to hear, forming a club called the Lynch Mob or the Klan.

This from the New York Times.

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