The PCA Blog - New England

Sweet Caroline: High School Sports Can Raise the Human Spirit

by Beth O'Neill Maloney

03.21.2016

With seconds left in the boys’ basketball game on Friday, March 11 between Newton North and Catholic Memorial, Newton North senior captain Nate Hollenberg scored a three-pointer from well outside the line.  But three points were not enough to close the gap.  The final score was 77-73.  Catholic Memorial went home with the title, and advanced to play Cambridge Rindge & Latin at the Garden, three nights later.

That March 11 game was beautiful, well-coached and well-played, with both teams competing to the end.  So was the next game.  This time Cambridge went home with the title, and Catholic Memorial lost 77-73, in another incredible, competitive game.  But no one was talking about the games.

The talk was about the chants students traded back and forth before the Catholic Memorial-Newton North game even started and about how Catholic Memorial barred its students from attending their team’s next game at the Garden.

I want to talk about the games.  Before I can do that, I need to address the chants.

As countless national media reports made clear, the chants in the first game went from rude to abhorrent and offensive.  Their reputations tarnished, both schools are taking the events seriously.  The impact of the chants is real.  Community members expressed outrage and pain.  Whatever the intent, the chants have been transmitted across the nation, even internationally, and cannot be ignored.

The MIAA has a no-taunting policy that prohibits any negative chants, including “air ball,” but legislation and decrees from sports governing associations alone will not solve the problem.

Communities must come together and do the “hard work” of creating a positive school sports culture. 

How?

  • By serious, proactive teaching about sportsmanship, civility, accountability, and respect for the game –meaning respect for your players, your opponents, the officials, and all fans. 
  • By painting clear lines around what is ok – positive cheering – and what is not ok – demeaning people. 
  • By engaging students in discussions about the impact of their actions – ranging from embarrassment of themselves, their school and their team, to a complete distraction from the game itself.
  • By spelling out consequences for violations before they manifest themselves publicly -- causing pain and embarrassment -- and implementing those spelled-out consequences.
  • Sound complicated?  It’s not.  Keep it simple - require student-fans to cheer for their own team, not against the other team.  

We do not have to look very far to find an example of just that in another Massachusetts playoff basketball game.  The March 3 playoff game between Concord-Carlisle and Holliston ended not in taunts but with both sets of fans singing Sweet Caroline together, like so many Red Sox fans.

Concord-Carlisle student-fans did not chant the oft-heard “scoreboard, scoreboard” when their team was up 30 points up at the half, instead Concord-Carlisle praised Holliston’s fans as “chill,” chanted “sportsmanship” together, and sang Sweet Caroline as one.  The final score was 89-43, and while the Holliston players would like to have won, the student-fans lifted their spirits.

Why Sweet Caroline?  While there are competing versions as to how the song came to be a fixture in the middle of the 8th inning at Fenway, and while the song has its supporters and its detractors, there is no doubt that it brings the crowd together.

Only one team wins a playoff basketball game.  But everyone can leave the game with their spirits raised.  Players, coaches and fans can appreciate the dedication, selflessness, hustle, teamwork, and the culmination of years of hard work that goes into the game.

I went to the Newton North/Catholic Memorial game to watch great basketball, to cheer on boys I have watched grow up serving others, and to honor the players and coaches who brought their very best to the court.  When these two teams inevitably square off against each other next year, may the student-fans lose the taunts, and honor the teams and the game itself.  Maybe, just maybe, a song will break out.

Beth O’Neill Maloney became the Executive Director – New England in January 2016. A native of the Boston area, she is excited to help PCA accomplish its mission of providing youth and high school athletes with a positive, character-building sports experience, developing Better Athletes, Better People, throughout New England.

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