Centennial Student Section: Drawing a Fine Line

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photo: Sara Ferrara

The Centennial student section’s behavior during the fall sports season has brought into focus the delicate balance between spirited and unsportsmanlike spectator behavior.

At the Varsity boys’ soccer game against Long Reach on October 10, two Centennial  students shouted in other languages during the game. Aaron Pollokoff, who is Jewish, shouted the beginning of a Hebrew prayer in Hebrew. Kenji Hoang, who is Chinese, said he shouted cheers like “great ball” and “good shot” in Chinese. Pollokoff also stated that Centennial students called out the names of Long Reach players throughout the game.

During the game, an official called a timeout to address the student section’s behavior and gave a warning to them. Afterwards, administrators talked to Owen Burke and Pollokoff, along with multiple other students, about their behavior at the game.

Principal Cynthia Dillon says that it was not simply students’ use of foreign languages that made their behavior inappropriate. She stated that the nonverbal signs accompanying their speech, such as their intonation and body language, “did not indicate kindness.”

“[It’s] not what you say but how you say it that matters,” she remarked.

In addition to the warning against the use of other languages, Burke recalled being told that spectators can’t bark or call out opposing players by name or number.

A few days later, Centennial played another boys’ soccer game at River Hill. Pollokoff says that Centennial students barked and screamed the names of Centennial’s and River Hill’s players.

Assistant Principal Tracy Scaltz, who was present at the game, asked students to stop screaming the names of River Hill’s players and barking. Although a couple of students initially questioned her reasoning, she said they didn’t do so in a disrespectful manner. According to Scaltz, the student section stopped their behavior after she talked to them, but it was apparent that there needed to be a dialogue between students and staff to reach a common ground.

For Scaltz, communication between the administration and student section is everything. “When we communicate clearly our expectations, and the staff and students come up with a plan, the kids are awesome” she stated.

What transpired both during and as a result of these games has led Burke to believe that the administration is “keeping a closer eye [on the student section]” than in past years.

While Centennial’s Athletic Director Jeannie Prevosto agrees that the student section’s behavior wasn’t worse than in past years, she says that inappropriate behavior “appears to have been more apparent this year.” She explained that when the official called a timeout to address it during the Long Reach game, this put it onto the administration’s radar.
Prevosto wants to make sure that the school takes care of any future inappropriate behavior before the officials do and stated that the school will “address everything we feel is unsportsmanlike or violates HCPSS policy for athletic events.”

Pollokoff, however, disagrees with the assessment that the student section’s behavior was unsportsmanlike. He believes that there was “nothing offensive or mean” about what they did.

Likewise, Burke says he doesn’t think “we’ve done one thing over the top all year.”

Prevosto, on the other hand, emphasized the idea that “perception is everything.” Even if a student is not intending to be offensive or mean, their behavior could still be “seen as negative and inappropriate.”

  After the two soccer games, some confusion developed within the student body over what behavior will –and will not– be allowed within the student section at games. After talking with Dillon, Prevosto clarified the school’s stance on certain behaviors.

Barking will be “allowed providing it is used to cheer for Centennial,” said Prevosto. However, if it is “used in a derogatory way to berate, harass, or intimidate opposing players, coaches, or officials, then that will not be allowed.”

With regards to calling out players’ names and numbers, Prevosto stated that “as long as our spectators are cheering in a positive, appropriate manner, we can call out the names and numbers of our players, not the opposing team’s.”

Ultimately, Prevosto says that she wants “everything we say and do to be a positive reflection of Centennial High School.” She is aware of the effect that the student section can have on games, and her goal is to allow as much school spirit as possible while adhering to good sportsmanship.

In a similar spirit, Burke remarked that he and his peers are “just trying to bring back energy and make it fun.”

Despite the recent disagreements between students and administrators over what behavior crosses the line, it is clear that both sides share a common goal: increasing school spirit at Centennial.

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