The Truth behind Chantgate

Vista del Lago High School in Folsom, Calif, is at the center of a controversy.

Vista del Lago High School in Folsom, Calif, is at the center of a controversy.

Folsom, Calif.__On Sept. 13, 2017, Vista del Lago principal, Lori Emmington, made an announcement to students and faculty in order to clear up the recent confusion regarding the students’ chanting of “U.S.A.” during school rallies and football games. These misinterpretations have stirred up controversy within the local community and have even made national headlines. After this spell of journalistic turmoil, it’s time to set the record straight.

In a day and age so dependent on media outlets, it’s important to recognize that the callous comments made by parents, students and reporters alike could have been prevented by searching for the truth rather than rumors.

Focus on conduct at games originated within the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), an organization that is “committed to developing student-athletes of character,”  they gave a presentation to school district administrators that addressed Pursuing Victory with Honor, the CIF’s guiding principles. The presentation emphasized the importance of promoting positive student and fan behavior.

Based on examples from across the country, the presentation also noted that unsportsmanlike behavior can manifest in several ways, such as chants meant to insult or intimidate the other school. An example of this offensive cheering is the abbreviation “USA”, standing for “you suck ass,” or sometimes it has been used to insinuate the other team has illegal immigrants.

The ‘USA’ chant is supposed to be a way to represent American pride, but when it is taken the wrong way, it completely changes the meaning. “Mr. Keeton, our athletic director, and I started thinking about how our students from about the last four years, mostly our seniors, chant ‘USA, USA’ during the middle of games,” Emmington said. “Not necessarily when the pledge is being said or the National Anthem has finished—they’ll break out with it in the third quarter.”

Emmington wanted to take preventative measures to ensure that Vista del Lago will never have to be subject to scrutiny from other student bodies that interpret the chant’s meaning negatively.

Despite her intentions, the message was misunderstood by a considerable amount of people after Emmington and athletic director Mark Keeton discussed the contents of the CIF meeting with activities director, Heidi Schultz, who had conversations with her Student Government and Leadership classes to address the issue.

“I told them that we need to be cautious when we use the ‘USA’ chant,” Schultz said, “because if we don’t use it at the right times, it could be misunderstood. There is, unfortunately, a current trend in high schools where [chants are] being used in a negative manner. So we need to make sure we are using the chants in a positive manner.”

After hearing what Schultz had to say, some students returned home, disappointed that their traditions of chanting were at risk. Naturally, these same students informed their parents of what had happened during the school day—telling them that chanting “U.S.A.” was banned outright. Without taking initiative to gain more insight on the situation, parents took to the internet to rant about their children’s First Amendment rights being violated—this is not the case.

“Students talk to friends, and some of those students and friends talked to their parents. For some reason, the message that the parents got was that we can’t, which was not what was used, ‘we can’t do this chant anymore because it would mean were white supremacists or something like that,’” Schultz stated. “So that’s where the misunderstanding was. Where the message was we have to be cautious when we use it, so it’s being used for the right purpose.”

After the initial upset, Emmington and assistant principal Kim Moore went directly to the Student Government class to clear up the confusion.  

“We wanted to make sure that they were clear that we weren’t taking away their right to chant ‘U.S.A.’ because we weren’t, and that wasn’t the intention,” Emmington said.

Nonetheless, Emmington and Moore’s intentions were unrealised as students continued to misinform their parents that a school-wide ban of the chant was being put into action. In turn, parents began sending emails to the school and posting about the issue on various social media platforms.

By Sept. 14, Vista del Lago made local news with the headline Folsom School Warns ‘USA’ Chant Could Send ‘Unintended Message’”, inflaming the already growing outrage among uninformed parents. However, these parents are unaware of what actually occurs on the campus of Vista del Lago. Students have come to understand, through discussion and explanation, that no such ban is in place.

I think that not everyone was fully understanding that this is more than just a USA chant. This is happening in our country and an actual thing that students are abusing to try and discriminate against other people,” Jocelyn Silver stated, a senior and public relations commissioner on campus. “There’s been legitimate situations where [chants have] been reported to be discrimination, and I think people are just not taking it into full effect, they’re not understanding the intensity of the situation, the magnitude of it. So I think that that was kind of how things got blown out of proportion.”

Despite the many attempts to clarify, Emmington’s words were consistently taken out of context and misconstrued, resulting in a whirlwind of misinformation distributed amongst multiple platforms. All the same, Emmington remains steadfast in her original message:

“I want our students to always think about what they say and what they do and how it’s interpreted,” Emmington said. “If our students want to chant ‘U.S.A.’ in the middle of the 3rd quarter, I’m not going to ever prevent them from doing it. I’m just hoping they think about what their messages say when they do it.”

Vista del Lago is not a school where banning chants and taking away students’ rights are norms. It is a place where students are encouraged to accept each other and celebrate their unity.

“I don’t think our students would ever, ever chant ‘U.S.A.’ to mean, ‘you suck ass,’ or I don’t think our students, Vista students, would ever use it to be a derogatory term toward other students,” Emmington said. “I think we have the most tolerant, supportive, inclusive students I have ever experienced in any high school I’ve worked at—I am so proud of that at Vista.”

To see what Vista really represents, check out this video, “We are Vista”