Written by Jane Aronds and Chris McGlynn
The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. Duke University and the University of North Carolina. Rivalries add character and intimacy to college and professional sports environments. Though every game brings its own stories and challenges, nothing compares to the tension that runs through stadiums when rivals face off.
One of the oldest rivalries in Union County stands between WHS and SPF. This rivalry does not fade after the last inning, winning goal or final whistle. It is carried off the field, into the stands and back to the schools.
According to former WHS Swim Coach Bruce Johnson, “[WHS and SPF] have been natural rivals since the early 1960s, when WHS joined what was then known as the Watchung Conference.”
There is also a history of brawls after WHS-SPF matches. Said Johnson, “There were two soccer games back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, where the police had to be called out to break things up and a WHS parent was ejected.”
Though fights are not common, a lot of trash-talking still occurs and the rivalry goes on. According to WHS Head Football Coach James DeSarno, “When you beat SPF, you get to hold it forever, especially when you’re a senior.”
The same can be said for SPF teams. According to SPF senior soccer captain Alex Cimring, “Even though a win is just a win, when hanging in an opponent’s town or with a friend from the other school, it gives you bragging rights.”
Rivalries bring sportsmanship
Rivalries can have positive aspects that make the tensions worthwhile. This competition can be healthy and provide some excellent motivation for teams. Said WHS Volleyball Coach Beverly Torok: “[When preparing for SPF,] the motivation is there. Focus just comes much easier in practice.” Senior soccer player Jenna Helfand added, “We are always ready to take on SPF.”
The tension between two teams can additionally create a feeling of closeness among fans. According to statesman.com:“Cheering together in the stands [and] wearing team colors…helps to turn fans into family.” Senior volleyball player Sophia Palia added, “A good rivalry gives students school spirit and a desire to beat the rival at all costs.”
Fierce rivalries can also inspire improved sportsmanship. On the field, WHS and SPF are at war. Off the field, the teams can sometimes put the game behind them and display a high level of sportsmanship. Cimring said: “One of the players duties is to show the fans a good time, not become violent on the field. Playing hard is different, but stupid fouls or penalties makes it too much and not fun.”
These matchups are meant to hype up the crowd, not increase hostilities. WHS alum and former baseball captain Kevin Galasso said, “In every sport our school has, the games against SPF always elicit the most hype and support by fans.”
One major benefit to facing a rival team is guaranteed game attendance. Said WHS Athletic Director Sandra Mamary: “Attendance is through the roof. Walking out and hearing the roar of the crowd is special. If that doesn’t get you excited to play, you’re dead.”
Rivalries also tend to increase not only the level of competition but also the level of performance. According to SPF marching band member Casey Murphy: “It is only important that we beat Westfield. We play to win.” WHS Hockey Tri-Captain Dane Huber explained, “It is always a good feeling to beat a rival. The next day in school everyone is talking about the game and puts the school in a great mood.”
Students also find inspiration to prepare when the game is against a rival team. According to Cimring, “I find it easier to get ready.... [It] allows me to get into game mode faster…. Anticipating the intensity of the game helps me prepare.”
When the line is crossed
Although rivalries benefit teams with increased school spirit and motivation, there are also downsides to certain pairings of schools. Said Helfand: “When students start to take the competitiveness and aggressiveness off the field you know it’s been taken too far. Talking about the other team negatively shouldn't happen. People just need to let the players do the talking by playing a good game on the field. ”
According to Mamary, a rivalry has gone too far when sportsmanship is lost. “[Deliberate taunting] is not the role of the fan,” she said.
Said senior volleyball player Anna Labrozzi, “I went to a [WHS] hockey game against SPF earlier this year and there were many chants that I shouldn’t repeat... chanted at the SPF players.”
Vandalism has also become a pattern when examining rivalries. According to Mamary, a few years ago SPF students burned their initials into Tamaques Elementary School field, where the WHS boys soccer team practices.
Rivalries can also turn negative when social media is involved. In a social world almost completely integrated with social media, rivalries continuing online is almost inevitable. Last year presented an infamous Facebook fight that broke out after a page was created for the WHS-SPF soccer game.
Said WHS Principal Mr. Peter Renwick: “When I see students writing such horrific things it’s disappointing. I see all the transcripts. I want [WHS] to be represented in the best light possible, and it’s hard to do with such issues.”
With rivalries that have gone too far come consequences. According to Mamary, the large turnouts at WHS-SPF games have become so intense that extra security has had to be added. Traffic has also become a major concern. Said Mamary: “I worry about kids on the field and leaving the stadium. There is always such a large turnout for the small venues.”
With only 2.4 miles between WHS and SPF and a competitive history as indicated previously by Johnson, this rivalry is strong-fueled and will continue for years to come. Said Renwick, “I know the students work hard, but there is always that added sense of satisfaction when [WHS] beats a rival.
But above all, a rivalry can ignite passion in high schools athletes beyond the thrill of playing the game. Said WHS Alum and former soccer captain Danny LaCorte: “Our games against them were the most intense.... The feeling of being on that field was beyond words to describe.”