by Jethro Swain
February 2nd, 2016
I’m sitting in the front row of the student section at the varsity basketball game versus Rainier. OES is down by nine or ten points with about six minutes left in the fourth. I’m still in my jersey from my JV game earlier which came down to clutch free throws by David L. and myself. The girls game was a close victory as well, with Sydney G. hitting her clutch free throws to seal the victory, and the game-tying shot by Rainier being taken away by a foot on the three-point line.
Then came the guys game, and to say that it was essential for them to win was an understatement, as they were looking to make the playoffs and had a very slim chance to do so if they did not beat Rainier. The majority of the game was close, until Rainier began to pull away at the end of the third, capped off by a three-quarter court line drive shot by Rainier’s small point guard that somehow perfectly dropped into the hoop.
At this point in the game, with six minutes left, my voice was hoarse, I was fighting a cold, and I was angry because I don’t like Rainier very much, or many of the other teams in the Lewis and Clark League for that matter (PA). Josh W. was to my right and Simon M. to my left and they were both cheering, trying desperately to spark a comeback for the guys team.
Then number 33 got his fourth foul. To let number 33 know that he had just received his fourth foul, I screamed across the court, “THAT’S YOUR FOURTH FOUL NUMBER 33, ONE MORE AND YOU’RE OUTTA HERE.” Immediately my comment was followed by a whistle blow.
The ref came over to me and Josh and said, “hey let’s try to keep it classy,” then proceeded to talk to coach Meyers, who was the fill in as head coach for Pratt that game.
Now to be fair, jeers were being yelled throughout the game. One kid with spiky blonde hair was called “Goku”, the short point guard was called “Hobbit” and when any of the multiple kids who swung down for the JV game were in, “JV” was chanted by some. The ref’s comment was triggered by constant comments by the OES student section. Some would say the ref’s comment was fair and some would say the ref should let the fans be fans.
I personally think it was unfair for me to take the heat for the crowd from both the ref and athletic director Dennis Sullivan, who had already given me warnings to simmer down. After the ref talked to me and Josh, Sully walked by and told me to “shut the hell up,” because I was “hurting the team.”
The boys rode a comeback and almost won the game after that point. The game ended as a one point loss for OES, which summarized the seemingly terrible luck the boys had throughout the season with a one point loss in which a three-quarter court shot was made.
The game followed with controversy, both for me personally and throughout the community, it seemed. I myself wondered what the limit was when it came to cheering at high school sports. Is it simply a matter of avoiding names and personal attacks? Or does it only go too far when the comments become incessant?
“When I grew up in the 90’s what was said to me was pretty personalized and wouldn’t be tolerated nowadays,” said Sully.“Playing in front of thousands of people in New Jersey affected how I see fans now.”
Sully played football, basketball, and lacrosse at a very high level in his home state of New Jersey. He’s no stranger to large crowds, many that have had fans that jeer and ridicule as much as any high school fan base.
“The fans never affected me but the atmosphere does,” he said. In the OES gym, where the number of fans is lower and the proximity to the court and to the opposing fans is closer, individual fans stand out more, whereas at larger high schools fans can blend into the bigger crowd. However, still, the players in games always try to tune out what the fans are saying, but sometimes a comment can get into their head.
“When I’m in a game my mind is devoted to blocking out the fans, and I’m in my own atmosphere,” said Luke S.
“Screaming defense and getting loud that’s great that’s what’s exciting about sports,” Sully told me. The key to a good crowd is maintaining the hype and excitement and engagement in a game, without getting to that point where it becomes personal and heated.
Another example of an energetic game with confrontation is the guys varsity OES versus Catlin game at Catlin. After a chant of “Scoreboard” by the OES fans, Catlin responded with “Playoffs” back at the OES fans, hitting the sore spot that OES was not going to make the playoffs and Catlin was. Catlin’s chant was personal and negative, but does it cross the line? That line of what is too far is often very hard to define, and there’s a lot of gray area around it.
“Attacks on the school or name calling especially in negative ways, but not too much should be considered too far because it’s all in good fun,” said Henry M when asked what is too far at a high school sports game.
“Going on the court or swearing or making specific insults,” said Meg. H when asked the same question. “A fan shouldn’t be kicked out for breaking any rules but if they’re interfering with the game then they deserve to be scolded.”
OES always strives for a great reputation and good sportsmanship above anything else. However, sometimes the same sportsmanship is not reciprocated with other teams in the leagues. “What’s unique about basketball is that we play a home and away, that second game people are anticipating something that may not be real,” said Sully.
Each year the basketball teams play every team in their league twice, once at home and once away. That makes it easy to hold grudges and remember certain comments or actions, because the same teams play again in the second half of the season.
Both Portland Adventist guys teams at the varsity and JV level ran up the score in the fourth quarter of games that were both already over before the end, pressing and shooting until the last seconds of the game.
Clatskanie also is known for harsh comments and phrases at their home games. Emerson L. told me that homophobic slurs were yelled at him, and Alex O. said that Clatskanie fans called him “Goldilocks”. These actions provoke reciprocation at the next game in the second half of the season, or even the following year, and can cause personal feelings in a game that should not be personal.
“Clatskanie doesn’t set the standard of excellence at OES, we set the standard of excellence at OES,” said Sully. “When the focus is on the fan that’s when it goes too far, or even when the fans are focused on the other fans…parents of that student you’re jeering at could be right next to you, or their brothers or sisters, and you may not know that player personally, but they do.”
At the end of the day what is considered to be “too far” is all relative to the school and the individual. OES holds high standards for its fans because we are a prep school with praise for good demeanor because we want to uphold our image. On the other hand, a school like Clatskanie may not hold as high of standards for its fans, because it does not hold as high of standards for its own school.
Finding the fine line between engaging the fans to allow them to create an enthusiastic environment, and making sure that their involvement is positive and upholds the standards of the school is a tough task for an athletic director, and with lacrosse season fast approaching, there is sure to be more controversy soon to come.