by Stella Billek
Every sport has rivalries; they’re part of what makes sports so enticing to fans. It’s impossible to deny the electric, adrenaline-pumping energy one might find in the seats of a Flyers-Penguins game or while watching Duke take on North Carolina. But it’s when these rivalries become too intense among fans that things get ugly and sometimes even dangerous.
Some people think of violent interactions at sporting events as extreme situations that are likely to never happen on such a grand scale. But the reality is, it happens all the time. There are endless cases of rivalries going too far, from professional sports to the high school level.
On Feb. 16, WHS boys varsity basketball players were leaving a game at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School when SPF fans began throwing rocks at them in the parking lot. Senior basketball player Phil Zanfagna said: “It was weird because with everything that happens on our team, everything stays on the court and then it’s done once we leave. But they took it one step further, and I’m not sure why.”
Zanfagna also said that during the game and at halftime, SPF fans were cursing at them and banging on their locker room door, making it difficult to hear their coach.
Mr. Ryan Miller, assistant principal of athletics at SPF, touched on the situation, saying that he was “pretty sick about it.” He added that he believed it was “awful that there would even be an incident in the parking lot following any contest, let alone a contest with Westfield.”
WHS Assistant Principal Mr. James Desarno also said: “It was very unfortunate and not necessary. When the game’s over, the game’s over, and it should be over for the fans too, and they should go home. Plain and simple.”
It’s easy to look at this incident, point fingers and call this a “classic SPF” move. But before we point fingers at our rivals, let’s take a look in the mirror. Is this the ugly side of a rivalry? Of course, but we can’t say we’ve never seen that kind of behavior from our own students when we play against our rivals in football, soccer or ice hockey.
Athletic Director Ms. Sandra Mamary said: “I think that there are times when kids’ emotions get a little too heated, and I try to remind the fans that the show is on the field or on the court, and not on the bleachers because the kids who are playing have put a lot of time into that performance. That’s what we really need to be reminded of, that the game is being played. It’s not about what happens in the stands.”
Yet, many fans within the student section don’t believe that their actions go too far. “When I think of students going ‘too far,’ I picture in my mind a group of students fighting or putting others in harm’s way,” said sophomore Maddy Sherry. “Aside from one incident, our student section is just excited about their school.”
At the same time, others believe that there are times when the actions of students are offensive. Senior Lexie Riley said: “I think that specific chants can go over the top when they are offensive against the other teams or involve inappropriate words. Specifically when games are against our rivals, chants about them being poorer than us tend to happen, which I think is very offensive.”
While it is important to keep reminding students that these rivalries should not go too far between teams, many athletes use this fire to intensify their game on the day of a heated match. “Playing a rival is a lot more fun than just playing an ordinary team, especially when it’s someone like Scotch Plains or Bridgewater, where there’s a dislike between the schools,” said Matt Harris, a senior varsity football team member. “There’s a lot more energy the week leading up to the game because you know how much you want to beat them.”
Zanfagna also said that his team uses the anger and aggression from the enemy crowd to up their ante on the court. “Even if they’re cheering against you, it still makes you play harder because all you hear on the court is noise,” he said. “You don’t hear anybody but the people screaming against you. The team was much more amped up. I don’t know why, but it gets your adrenaline pumping more. You just feel more motivated to play the game.”
Harris added: “When you play a rival, you don’t just want to beat them, you want to beat them by as much as possible. Especially when it’s a team that thinks they can beat you, you really want to show them that they’re not ready for you.”
So while shouting fans and thunderous claps motivate athletes, the rocks and the name-calling do nothing to help anyone. The question that high school fans must ask is whether they wish to keep their rivalries in good spirit.
“The ideal way for student fans to show school spirit at rivalry games is by making the cheers more positive, and by cheering in favor of your school rather than cheering against the other school,” said senior Grace Brindle. “I think a better way to go about it is to make your cheers more positively-oriented, like ‘Go Westfield!’ rather than just tearing down the other school.”