Tuesday, May 18, 2010

District tells varsity team it can't play in Ariz.

By DON BABWIN (AP) – 2 hours ago

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Morgan Bartelstein was clearly uncomfortable that her suburban Chicago high school basketball team got caught in middle of the immigration debate after district officials told the team they couldn't go to Arizona for a tournament.

All the sophomore wanted to do was play ball, not draw the attention of everyone from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the women on "The View."

"I hope that everyone just knows that the team is trying to get through it, play basketball and that's really it," Bartelstein told a packed school board meeting on Monday.

The controversy at Highland Park High School over whether the varsity girls' basketball team could travel to Arizona for a December tournament is one of the latest in response to the sweeping new immigration law that has sparked debate all over the United States.

The law — which requires authorities to question people about immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally — has led to everything from various cities voting in favor of boycotts with Arizona businesses to protests at ballparks where the Arizona Diamondbacks are playing.

The debate at Highland Park began earlier this month when the district's superintendent announced that the girls team could not travel to Arizona for the tournament because of the immigration law. They will go to a tournament in Orlando, Fla., instead.

Though the district said its decision was out of concern for the safety of the students, the announcement quickly became part of the immigration debate, dividing the leafy suburb near Lake Michigan.

Amy Jacobson, a local talk show host on a conservative radio station, started a Facebook page in support of sending the team to Arizona.

Palin also weighed in during a speech in nearby Rosemont last week. She called for people to help the team raise money to get to Arizona and even suggested that the girls on the team "go rogue."

Rush Limbaugh chimed in during his radio program, and the team was even a topic of discussion on "The View" television show last week. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggested the girls were "pawns" being used by district officials while Whoopi Goldberg wondered why the district made such a decision without talking to the girls' parents first.

At the school board meeting Monday night in nearby Deerfield, some parents and students supported the district's decision because they worried the girls might be subject to racial profiling.

Some said they were just as upset that parents would allow the students from a school district that is more than 15 percent Hispanic to be put in a position where they could be subjected to racial profiling.

"It may well be that a year from now we'll wonder what all of the fuss was about but that will be up to the officials in Arizona as to how they enforce the law," said parent James McCarty.

But others were baffled that anyone would suggest that allowing the girls to go to Arizona means the district is somehow endorsing its law. "We're not agreeing with them, we're playing a basketball game," said Harold Levin, an area resident.

District officials have made it clear they want the whole controversy to go away. They have not returned repeated telephone calls from The Associated Press, and on Monday night, they simply sat quietly and listened to each speaker, refusing to answer the handful of questions they were asked.

They have, in large part, limited their comments to written statements, including one posted on the district's website by Township High School District 113 Superintendent George Fornero and another read Monday night by the board president.

"We cannot commit at this time to playing at a venue where some of our students' safety or liberty might be placed at risk because of state immigration law," wrote Fornero.

But one thing all sides appeared to agree on Monday night was that the team had been dragged into the heated immigration debate.

"They just want the negative attention to go away," said Elizabeth Kapnick, a 17-year-old junior.

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