By MICHAEL HEINBACH
of the Missoulian
For me, covering Missoula crosstown prep athletic competitions is usually a blast.
In general, that’s when I get to see the best of the students, when they show devout pride in their school in loudly cheering their team toward victory.
But Tuesday night at Sentinel gym, I left disheartened after witnessing an ugly display at the volleyball match between Missoula Hellgate and Missoula Sentinel.
The student sections in support of both schools were packed with kids at their most vocal, and most everyone in attendance wore pink in support of breast cancer awareness, which of course I fully endorse.
But the cheering quickly turned toward heckling the opposing student body before it got downright disgusting.
It began lightheartedly, with the Sentinel kids chanting across the court at the Hellgate section, “Let’s play football,” in a not-so-gentile reminder that the Spartans edged Hellgate 15-12 on the gridiron back on Aug. 31.
But things only went south from there and soon the taunting went well past an R rating. Somehow it slipped by Sentinel administrators in attendance, but the Spartan section started a chant that I won’t repeat, but had to do with their side having more sex than the opposition.
Much to my surprise, the Hellgate section responded with a chant that referred to the Sentinel kids with a homosexual slur, which in turn forced Hellgate activities director Lynn Farmer to remove her school’s entire student section aside from the girls who played for the Knights’ junior varsity, sophomore and freshman volleyball teams.
As a result, the Hellgate cheerleaders were left to cheer to a small handful of kids and several Sentinel boys went charging outside to the parking lot, presumably to confront the Hellgate kids who were forced to leave.
This is not what prep athletics are all about. First of all, never ever under any circumstances is it acceptable to use a slur, especially when it deals with sexual preference.
Events like a crosstown volleyball match exist to promote unity among fellow students, united in support of their team. And sporting events are certainly not a forum to belittle the opposition on the field of play or in the stands.
I had hoped that this generation if kids, raised in the most politically-correct era in history, understood that.
I know how rivalries can get heated and that things can be said before rational thought stifles the impulse. But please, in the future, use these games to boost your own school spirit. Don’t tarnish the efforts of the athletes on the field of play by making it a negative experience for all involved.
As a journalist, I know the power a few simple words can have. Please don’t abuse that power, keep it clean and try your best to keep it positive.