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A small team brings moral victory to a divided town

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"This is something which unites the community instead of something that causes splits, and it's a very positive thing," says Tommy Emerson, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and a member of Jordan-Matthews's first graduating class in 1957. "We've struggled with this demographic shift, but there's been a big effort to meet the challenges, and this shows we're doing some things right."

The Jets are a major success in the short, strange history of Hispanic immigration to the South, which began in the early 1990s. Ten years ago, Siler City was a town of blacks and whites. Then came the Hispanic men, arriving in a trickle, then a torrent, to North Carolina's pine-covered plains. They were headed to Siler City, the center of North Carolina's poultry kingdom. In 1996, the families started coming to join husbands and fathers, catching off guard not just schools, but communities and small towns that hadn't expected a rush of new faces with an entire culture in tow.

All along, there have been tensions, compounded by the poverty and uncertain futures of small farm towns that are losing income from tobacco farms and manufacturing plants in recent years.

The conundrums were significant enough to make Siler City a case study for last year's PBS documentary, "Matters of Race," about racial tensions between whites and Hispanics in the the region. Three years earlier, Siler City made news when white supremacist David Duke paid a visit.

During team travel, the Jets have seen those tensions first-hand and gotten used to slurs from the opposition's parents - from threats to call immigration authorities to the simple but hurtful "Stupid Mexicans."

"The thing I would always say is: Just take it out on the field, let's just beat them as badly as we can," says Cuadros. "Our motto has been strength and honor, forca y honor: Strength wins you games, but honor makes you winners."

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