Not On Their Best Behavior
A Reflection on What Went Down at the OA-Stoughton Basketball Game
I’m not preaching here, but reflecting and offering commentary and a little teaching. I hope the commentary, reflection and teaching are valuable.
As I said, I’m not preaching – for I am in no position to preach.
Believe me, I have messed up with the best of them, and said things I shouldn’t have said. I've followed up with apologies, sometimes. This is curious because my vocation is public relations and writing, and while I have been fortunate to build a fulfilling career in advising companies and people on what to do, write and speak, I sometimes veer from the script in my own life.
So here I get to the Oliver Ames High School boys’ basketball game against Hockomock League rival and next door neighbor, Stoughton High School, last Tuesday night at Brockton High School in the Eastern Massachusetts Div. II South Semifinal.
If you haven’t heard, or read it in the paper, or caught it in a TV news story, some of the students in the OA cheering section were in bad form during the game, chanting lines that were hurtful. I repeat – “some” of the students were behaving rudely and in demeaning fashion.
Then again, bad form is what some of the petulant, and those who are in need of a lot of growing up, would seek to exercise when their team is getting blown out.
Stoughton won the game, 68-42.
OA fan behavior does not reflect on the OA boys’ basketball team, comprised of hard working and talented athletes, and coached by Don Byron and his staff, all caring and excellent mentors. Believe me, the OA players and coaches wanted none of that chanting. They understand it isn’t right – and it didn’t help their mission at all.
Stoughton’s hoop team is far more diverse in terms of color than OA’s team. All but two of Stoughton’s players are African-American players. Each of Stoughton’s starting five players are black.
As it has been reported, during the contest, when one of the two white kids on the Stoughton team went into the game, OA kids chanted, “Who’s the white kid? …. Who’s the white kid?”
I need to state here that yesterday I was on the Internet reaching out to various people in the know, those in the media who were at the game and Easton residents not in the media who were at the game, and I am receiving differing reports on what was exactly chanted.
My research has informed me that at some time during the game, for varying stretches of time, these chants did come forth from the OA student multitude: “You’re on welfare .... You’re on welfare.” And “We’ve got futures …. We’ve got futures.” Then there was “We pass the MCAS …. We pass the MCAS” – a reference to the standardized test that Massachusetts high school students must pass in order to graduate from high school.
OA administrators intervened during the game and put a stop to chants. But in a big crowd, troublemakers are afforded anonymity and cover in which they can hide.
In the days after the game, OA Principal Wes Paul called Stoughton High Principal Matthew Colantonio to apologize for the rude behavior of some of the OA fans. Colantonio said that the apology was heartfelt. I know Wes and I know that his apology was heartfelt.
By the way, I dare say that the conduct of the OA student fans on Tuesday night, while offensive, was not in the league of hurtful as that performed one night by some members of the “The Section,” an OA cheering group for OA boys’ basketball teams during the mid-1970s.
The Section, which was almost all guys, was highly vocal, loud and outrageous and operated mostly within the bounds of acceptable partisanship and mischief.
Mostly. That night to which I refer, the OA boys’ basketball team was playing at Sharon High School, our long-time rival in hoops. The town of Sharon had, as it does today, a population a large percentage of which is Jewish. As was the custom of the “The Section,” before the game, all its members walked in together, many wearing outlandish outfits and hats, creating a spectacle.
On this night, though, among the members, were some dressed in German World War II military outfits, and others dressed as Arab sheiks. Filthy. Heinous. Obscene.
What can we learn from last week’s troubling episode?
One thing that the conduct revealed is that within Easton has grown among young people, supported and fueled, whether intentionally or not, by adults, a culture and identity of that of a town of big-time wealth and material possession.
Young people in Easton, through whatever channels, are spoiled in large numbers, and are ingrained with an attitude of entitlement and that their privilege places them above young people in other communities.
What went down at Brockton High School on the evening of Tuesday, March 6, 2012, was about class bigotry – and had very little to do with racism, although I suspect there might have been a small racist component there.
Being a student at OA today is to know a cliquey society in which you wear better clothes and carry better technology and to drive a nicer car (yes, I just wrote that – at OA today the car competition among kids is intense). It is incessant and pressured.
Those chants at the OA-Stoughton basketball game originate in a mindset which include the following circumstances and notions: “We are rich and it’s like Beverly Hills light around here”…. “Mommy makes a lot of money.” …. “Daddy makes a lot of money” ….. “My parents make a lot of money” …. “We live in big house” …. “You won’t believe where I’m going for spring break” …. “Yes, that’s our car, the new Lexus” …. Gucci:? Yes …. UGG? Why, yes.”
Many, many kids in Easton need to have their horizons expanded, and have taught to them that Easton is not even in the league, not even close, in terms of money and wealth, with other places in our great nation.
Perhaps a brief and inadequate tutorial is in order and we need to get some of the kids who were chanting at the OA-Stoughton tourney game and put them on a bus and give them a tour of the Mainline outside of Philadelphia, or the Hamptons, or Jerusalem Road here in Massachusetts in Cohasset, or a few neighborhoods in Milton, or any one of the gorgeous suburbs in Silicon Valley, or an avenue of homes in Illinois that runs from the communities of Evanston to Winnetka (and back again), or Beverly Hills.
There is something about people when they don’t come from money and who achieve “nouveaux riche” status that causes them to comport themselves as more moneyed than they really are. This of course also applies to the upper middle class.
I hope that the OA students who were loudest and most involved in the negative chants at the game learn from their mistakes. They are high school kids and I am confident they are all mostly good. I am confident that they will grow to despise name calling and derogatory chants.
I love Easton. Again, we don’t rank with the wealthiest communities in the nation. In that area we are B-team, the junior varsity, the varsity designate.
But in taking in the bigger picture we realize there is so much here that makes Easton one of the best places to live anywhere.
That we are a nice community in which to live has something to do with money.
But money is only one element in our livability quotient. There are far more factors in the equation: factors that are about compassion, caring and being good to one another.
Let us commit to teaching our young people this.