Van High School in East Texas conducted its annual homecoming bonfire on Thursday night, at which members of the football team lit a large fire underneath an effigy wearing the jersey of a player from rival school Brownsboro’s football team. Video of the event was posted on the school’s Facebook page, but then deleted after angry commenters pointed out that the player whose effigy was burned is black.
Despite the school scrubbing its Facebook page, EastTexasMatters.com published a clip from the event:
The burning effigy is wearing a Brownsboro No. 8 jersey, which is worn by a black running back on the Brownsboro football team. Van Independent School District Superintendent Don Dunn released the following statement in an attempt to explain that the bonfire wasn’t meant to be racist:
The Vandal Bonfire is a long-standing tradition in Van ISD that dates back to the 1940s. When this tradition began, our bonfire was constructed by senior students; however, after an incident in the mid-2000s when a student broke his wrist during construction, the district decided to halt the tradition. In 2017, the bonfire tradition was reinstated with the construction process handled by Van ISD staff rather than students for safety reasons. Our community and alumni have been very excited to see this beloved tradition return. After videos of the bonfire posted by the district on social media following the bonfire last night, comments arose in the thread accusing the district of racism. 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. Van ISD 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. For this reason, future bonfires will not include a mock football player of the opposing team. We sincerely regret if anyone was offended by this tradition that has always centered around good-natured school spirit between rival teams and are saddened that that the character of our upstanding school community has been called in to question.
Whether you buy this explanation or not, I think we can all agree that burning effigies of high school football players is weird as hell.