Written by Bob Woelk Tuesday, 13 February 2007 18:00First of all, I reckon I should congratulate Marion High School's boys on their basketball victory over Hillsboro a couple of weeks ago.
I should, but the words kind of stick in my craw. Not that the Warriors didn't defeat the Trojans "fair and square." The game featured a solid comeback by Marion after a strong first half by Hillsboro.
It took some free-throw misses by the Trojans and a last-second 3-pointer by one of the Hett boys to send the game to overtime. Then, a last-second tip secured the two-point win for Marion, the first for the Warrior boys over HHS since 1993.
The Hillsboro faithful knew ahead of time the game would be an epic battle. Marion had finished higher in the Trojan Classic the week before, taking fourth place. The local boys claimed sixth.
The officiating was a bit odd, especially in the second half when a rare double foul was called, disqualifying two key players, and a no-foul call left a loose ball scramble that resulted in the winning bucket.
Hillsboro, in fact, had a large lead and a number of opportunities to salt away the win and let it slip through the Trojans' collective fingers. Disappointing? Yes. Frustrating? Naturally. Infuriating? Not so much.
It was the indisputably unsportsmanlike behavior of the Marion crowd, particularly the student body, after the final horn that got most of the Hillsboro fans fired up.
One student, reportedly the son of a Marion faculty member, came across the floor and taunted the HHS student section. He was wearing some sort of red and blue hockey mask. He struck a "Mr. Universe" pose and hollered at the Trojan followers.
Then, another Marionite raced around the floor, displaying a flag with a large "M" on it. Again, the action was clearly aimed at the Trojan fans.
I witnessed all of this as I stood in front of the Hillsboro students, urging them to stay cool and not do something they might regret later. As far as I know, they behaved admirably in the face of the Warrior fans' attempts to incite some sort of indiscretion by the visitors.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this sort of thing happens at the high school level. It has been going on forever at college contests, where no sportsmanship code seems to exist at all. Student sections routinely taunt and bait players with shouts of "air ball" when an opposing shooter fails to draw iron, and shower boos nearly every time an official's call is not in their team's favor.
In general, high school spectators, especially students, are calm and respectful, especially if they are encouraged to exhibit positive behavior. I have yet to see any significant problems with the HHS faithful. They are positive in their support of the team, and rarely, if ever, take verbal shots at opponents' players.
When Hillsboro fans are asked to stay off the court following a contest, they do their best to comply. I should know. I've made some of those requests as public address announcer for Trojan home games.
I also have been enlisted to help with "security" at numerous sub-state and state contests, charged with the task of keeping watch over students. I have never needed to say anything to our kids about behavior.
I don't begrudge the Marion students or adult fans the opportunity to celebrate a win over Hillsboro. Even storming the court after the big win is understandable. They should be allowed to take a moment to celebrate a rare victory over a long-time rival.
And, let the record show, the players from both sides were gracious in the minutes immediately following the contest. It would be nice to be able to say the same about the fans.
In the days following the aforementioned clash, I have read over the back-and-forth jabs alleged fans of the two schools have posted on the Wichita Eagle's online forum. Most of them are harmlessly juvenile and hopelessly nearsighted. They are also safely anonymous.
But there have been a couple of comments that have me convinced that we are heading down a road to further incivility at high school sporting events.
There are those who claim there is nothing wrong with student sections hurling taunts and insults at each other. It's all in the name of keeping the contests "interesting" and fun. It's all part of the entertainment, they say.
I disagree. I don't know anyone who ever feel good about being verbally harassed in public. Good manners and sportsmanship should always be encouraged, and I appreciate the Hillsboro administration's efforts to make Robert C. Brown Gymnasium a welcoming place for visitors.
I have kept an eye on our students in the games following the trip to Marion, and I have to say, they are as respectful as any group of young people you are likely to find anywhere.
I am proud of them for taking the high road. They don't chant "air ball" when a player misfires badly, and though their reaction to an official's call is sometimes an expression of disagreement, they continue to show restraint and common sense before, during and after games, regardless of the outcome.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the honorable route to take in life as well as something as trivial as a sporting contest.