The Last Shot: High School Basketball Pride in the Heartland
By Doug Abrams
In the past few weeks, headlines have carried stories about disturbing conduct by high school sports fans. The Herald-Standard reported, for example, that throughout a basketball game in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, some students in the stands chanted “Build that wall! Get them out of here!” and other racial slurs at opposing African American players.
The Mendham-Chester Patch reported that similar student chants, leveled at black and Hispanic opponents, marred a high school basketball game in suburban New Jersey. The Huffington Post reported that a Missouri public school superintendent publicly apologized after students in the stands collectively turned their backs on opposing high school basketball players during pre-game introductions, apparently a school tradition that no one had ever questioned.
“Everyone Will Remember”
Students refreshingly bucked this descent in Nebraska late last month at a basketball game between Columbus High School and Kearney High School. Kearney held an 11-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock. Both teams’ fans began enthusiastically chanting, “We want Kyle! We want Kyle.”
Kyle Anderson, the team’s manager, had suited up for his first game and had yet to see action. The popular senior was no ordinary substitute. WOWT 6 News reported that ever since being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer five years ago, the Eagle Scout and former Homecoming King has undergone several chemotherapy treatments and surgeries. He volunteered as manager when his condition kept him from trying out for the team.
Columbus’ coach put Kyle in the game according to plan, and the manager responded by hitting a layup in the final seconds. The Columbus Telegram described the drama: “No one will remember the final score; everyone will remember Anderson’s layup.”
Columbus High School will move into a new building next year, so the Kearney matchup was the final regular season basketball game played in the nearly 60-year-old gymnasium. Kyle’s layup was Columbus’ last varsity basket scored in the gym, a proud climax for both teams’ students whose resounding cheers saluted the manager as the game ended.
People Are Always Watching
Leading national voices promote sportsmanship and respect as hallmarks of vigorous high school athletic competition. In some high visibility sports today, however, fans’ trash talking, taunting, and rowdiness sometimes eclipse these core values.
The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star offers this healthy perspective for students in the stands who feel tempted to stray from partisanship to vulgarity: “People are always watching everything you do, so respect visitors, guests, and the people you represent . . . with your actions. After all, high school sports are about bringing a community together to support the students and one another.”
Before the curtain closed on nearly six decades of tipoffs in Columbus High School’s gymnasium, the final act pointed in the right direction.
Sources: Alyssa Choiniere, Parents Say Uniontown Players Targets of Racial Comments at Connellville Game, Herald-Standard (Uniontown, Pa.), Feb. 10, 2017; Katie Kausch, ‘Build The Wall’ Chants Cause Controversy At NJ Basketball Game, Mendham-Chester (N.J.) Patch, Jan. 31, 2017; Aaron Ferguson, Hoops Fan’s Heckling Was Embarrassing and Disrespectful, Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.), Dec. 8, 2016; Ed Mazza, White Students Hold ‘Trump’ Sign, Turn Backs On Black Basketball Team, Huffington Post, Dec. 14, 2016; Brandon Scott, During His H.S. Basketball Debut, the Crowd Goes Wild For a Columbus Teen Fighting Cancer, http://www.wowt.com/content/news/The-crowd-goes-wild-for-a-Columbus-teen-fighting-cancer-during-his-HS-basketball-debut-414828033.html (Feb. 26, 2017); Kollin Miller, Anderson Steals Show in Final Home Game, http://columbustelegram.com/sports/high-school/anderson-steals-show-in-final-home-game/article_e0545408-281d-515e-8c43-7607cdb553d1.html (Feb. 17, 2017).