Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Rivalries

The school at which I teach has been on the lower end of the athletic totem pole for many years. We have been in the same league for just about our entire existence, and within the league there are two other private schools; a fellow Catholic school (jokingly called "The Factory" because they have been athletically dominant for generations) and a Protestant Christian school which also has been very strong in basketball. Naturally, the rivalries between these two schools and mine is rather intense; yet the intensities of the rivalry with regards to the fellow Catholic school and us and the protestant school and us are of very different characters.

Let me explain.

Last year in basketball, we finally acheived a certain amount of success in the gym. The Protestants (their mascot is the Patriot) beat us at their own home, but when they came to visit us, despite amazing woofing on the part of the parents and strutting on the part of their players, we finally beat them on our home floor. They thanked us by overturning our picnic tables and grousing on their way out.

We then proceeded to beat them -twice- in the playoffs, and the unpleasant character of the rivalry only increased.

This year has been little different. While the cheering is intense, its character is verging on hostile. The Protestants do not like us, at all.

Naturally, I am biased, but it is my belief that the animus is mostly one-sided. We would be more than happy to get along with our Protestant brethren, but the level of animosity they generate towards us makes this amity difficult to achieve.

Let us compare this intensity to that we share with the Factory.

The Factory last year pretty much crushed us on their home court. When they then visited us in the most anticipated game of the year, an unbelievably raucous crowd saw the Factory beat us in overtime.

Then we met in the playoffs, with great anticipation.

The game started with a cheer from the Factory side of the floor; "Go CATHOLICS!!!!" Remember, we are both Catholic schools.

The Factory crushed us again. It wasn't even close. And we then proceeded to cheer for them throughout the rest of the playoffs, as they finished 5th in the state. You surely did not see us overturn their picnic tables on the way out.

This year, the Factory is down while we returned 4 of our five starters from last year's playoff team. We went to their place and beat them for the first time in a tightly fought contest. We proceeded to win all of our other games (save one, where the rather rude Patriot crowd saw their team beat us in OT on our own floor. Since they won this one, they left our picnic tables alone).

And then the Factory came to our place last night.

My school's team put together four full quarters, never let up and beat the Factory easily. A very intense game on the floor, lots of cheering in the stands, but we prevailed.

But that's not why I am writing this post.

Afterward, one of our school's families hosted a get together of families from both our school. . .and the Factory.

I'd estimate about 80 people showed up. Most of our players were there, as were a good many Factory players and their families. And we had a great time. Lots of pizza, chips, beer, pop, great conversations. I spoke at length with the parents of the Factory's pre-season all-star choice, and the owner of the radio station that broadcasts Factory games. They were happy for our success and were rooting for us to go far in the state tourney. They still hope to beat us in the playoffs, but wish us well. . .just as we have with them for years. They are playing the Patriots on Tuesday. For the Factory to beat the Patriots only helps us. . .it doesn't significantly assist the Factory given the state of records in the league right now.

Yet they are out for bear on the Patriots, and wish us to beat them as well. See, they have been on the receiving end of Patriot animosity as well.

We also discussed fan behavior. While we both cheer our respective home teams, we also cheer the efforts of the opposing team, giving a good hand to starters who are done for the night, regardless of which team he belongs to.

And keep in mind all of this occurs not only while our boys are getting the upper hand over the Factory for the first time ever, but our girls team -much maligned- ALSO beat the Factory against everyone's expectations -including mine- for the first time ever last night. And yet the Factory parents and players were remarkably poised, elegant and fair in taking their loss, enjoying fellowship with us as much as we enjoyed it with them.

We would invite the Patriot parents over, but they would not accept the invite. Or perhaps they would, and burn down the house.

The Factory people are class acts, and while we do share the fraternity of common faith, it gives one hope that at least at the high school level, it is possible to have those intense rivalries while simultaneously forming and cementing friendships between the groups. Now if we could get the same relationship going with our Protestant brethren. . .
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