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MCALLA, Ala. (AP) Administrators at an Alabama high school have apologized for a banner displayed at a recent football game recalling the Trail of Tears, in which Native Americans were forcibly removed from the Southeast.

McAdory High School played the Pinson Valley Indians on Friday night, and McAdory cheerleaders held up a sign saying their opponents should "Get ready to leave in a Trail of Tears."

The sign recalled the U.S. government's forced removal of more than 15,000 Native Americans from ancestral homes in the Southeast to what is now Oklahoma in 1838 and 1839. Thousands died en route.

McAdory Principal Tod Humphries said he accepts full responsibility for not having banners pre-approved before the game.

"Please accept our sincere apologies to the Native American people and to anyone who was offended by the reference to an event that is a stain on our nation's past forever," Humphries said in a statement.

The person who typically approves signs is on maternity leave, he said.

Jefferson County school officials also apologized for the banner, and said the school is going to use the incident for educational purposes.

"The principal is asking all social studies teachers to teach each grade a lesson about the real Trail of Tears. We can use this unfortunate event as an important teachable moment," county school Superintendent Stephen Nowlin said in a statement.

The cheerleaders who made the sign will face disciplinary action, Nowlin said.

The Trail of Tears largely forced Cherokees to uproot from lands in Georgia and North Carolina to Oklahoma on a path crossing parts of several states including Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas, according to the National Park Service at its online site. It said many walked hundreds of miles while others were transported on wagons, steamboats and river flatboats.