KITTERY, Maine – Nine girls on the Traip Academy varsity soccer team took a knee during the national anthem before Monday’s game, and three of them are now complaining about the public backlash.

The girls – junior Beti Stevens, junior Mia Dickinson, and freshman Zadie Lauer – told SeacoastOnline that they were inspired by NFL players over the weekend and took a knee to draw attention to “racial justice.”

“Students confronted us today mainly thought that it was disrespectful and it was the wrong thing to do,” Dickenson said. “They thought we were disrespecting the troops or disrespecting America or it was about Donald Trump; when it was really about bringing attention to how people of color and other minorities are treated differently in this country and discriminated against.”

Dickinson and Lauer are white, while Stevens is black.

Some folks posted pictures of the girls kneeling during the anthem, which sparked a fierce public backlash both online and at school. An image was also published in the Portsmouth Herald, according to The Associated Press.

Some of the comments were mean, or racist, or misogynistic, they said, and they can’t understand why nobody wants to listen to what they’re trying to say.

“The thing that really hit me today wasn’t necessarily all the nasty things students had to say, it was the fact they were not willing to take the time to listen,” Stevens said. “What we’re trying to get at here is we know there is ignorance and we know there is talk now, but this (stunt) was to bring some level of awareness to the issue and now we’re calling for education.”

Unfortunately, because of how they instigated the conversation, few are willing to hear them out.

“What they don’t understand is that it’s disrespectful if we don’t address (racial injustices), if we just stand by and let it happen,” Lauer told SeacoastOnline. “Whenever we try to explain it to people in our school, they don’t want to take the time to listen. Nothing can happen until we take the time to listen to each other.”

The controversy started last year when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest alleged racial injustice, and several players from his team and others followed suit. President Trump reignited the issue last Friday when he called on NFL team owners to fire players who disrespect the flag, country and veterans by refusing to stand. The president also called on folks to boycott teams that support the protests.

“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump said.

Traip Principal John Drisko said he took action to speak with students who were upset with the girls’ protest.

“It has been dealt with in a manner so the student knows it was inappropriate to use uncivil discourse and hide behind social media,” he said. “If it happens again, then we’re looking at something that wouls reach harassment level.”

Drisko said he hopes the episode can be used as a teaching opportunity.

“Adolescents can act on whims and this was whim beyond the pale and it is being dealt with in a manner that teaches,” he said. “We need to be careful to support our students. Whether or not they stand for the anthem or if they take a knee, we need to support them. But we also need to support our kids who stand for the flag and promote their support civilly.”