COLUMBUS, Texas -

The superintendent of Columbus Independent School District on Monday said he received calls from as far away as the United Kingdom after a track and field student-athlete was reportedly disqualified for crossing the finish line and pointing toward the sky to praise God.

For the last week, Columbus, a city of less than 3,700, has been the center of a controversy. People were upset that a runner was penalized for raising his arms to the sky at the finish line of a regional track meet in Kingsville.

"[It] really was a really flammable issue to say the least. I received hundreds of emails that I would just say categorizing us [as] not very flattering and not very complimentary," said Robert O'Connor.

O'Connor said people thought an expression of faith cost the Columbus relay team a spot in the state championship.

"That's what really drew all the attention to the situation but we knew all along as the district that there was more to the story then that one incident," he said.

The University Interscholastic League found the student raised his hand after finishing the 4x100-meter relay. When an official approached him, he felt the student-athlete reacted disrespectfully, leading to his disqualification.

"I want to be very clear -- in Texas, it is always okay to thank you to God," said UIL Deputy Director Dr. Jamey Harrison. "At UIL events, it is always okay to say thank you to God."

In a statement released by the UIL, the student-athlete said: “Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4x100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated.”