Football team trades 15 yards for right to dance

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

An Oregon football team starts almost every game with a 15-yard penalty. And the home fans in Portland love it.

The referees drop the flag because the Jefferson High School team performs a dance known as a haka before each game. The dance has its roots in New Zealand with the Maori people, and found a wider stage with the New Zealand rugby team and the University of Hawaii football team.

The Jefferson High version began with the team's seven students from Tonga. It took players a few days to get the moves right, but weeks to learn the Maori words that are chanted.

Players, cheerleaders and students have rallied around the dance. But opposing coaches complained, and the Oregon School Activities Association decided the ritual amounted to taunting -- a 15-yard penalty.

The coach put it to a vote -- and the team chose to take the penalty rather than give up the haka.

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