By Steve Amaro
Since the beginning of interscholastic athletics, rivalries have been part of the high school landscape. Whether they occur in football stadiums in the fall, basketball courts in the winter, or even fields of dreams in the spring, they remain benchmark games for many programs.
In our increasingly competitive society, we have seen instances in which rivalries have brought out the worst in some players and fans. Some of this is a result of what fans see at professional arenas when they hear derogatory chatter or even violence. Despite the negativity that surrounds rivalries, they can also be positive forces that bring communities together. Coaches have the opportunity to help direct how rivalries are seen in both our students and communities. Here are a few ways to bring out the best in rivalries.
The days leading up to the rivalry game are great opportunities to bring communities together. Before rival football games, teams can meet together off the field and celebrate school history.
In the Liberty district in California, the Wednesday before their scheduled football game, the teams came together for a combined team dinner at a local pizza parlor. Before the food was served, both coaches addressed the assembled teams emphasizing the importance of not only the game, but embracing the opportunity to represent the school and community in the most positive light – regardless of the final outcome.
After the initial dinner, the local Kiwanis club became an annual sponsor, bringing in speakers, inviting the local mayors and various community leaders to reinforce the message of working together. In future evolutions, tickets were sold for the event and money generated was used for scholarships for students from both schools.
Rivalries can also be used as a way of generating funds and creating community energy. The weekend before a rivalry contest, schools can conduct fun runs or 5Ks for a fundraising cause. Such events can bolster school spirit and emphasize sportsmanship.
Fun runs give athletes the opportunity to see their rivals in a scenario in which they are working together. Depending on geography, schools can schedule fun runs from one stadium to the rival stadium, alternating start and finish points each year. Cheerleaders and bands from one school can cheer on participants at the start while the cheerleaders and band from the rival school bring spirit to the end. Local businesses can sponsor the race and set up booths at various staged locations. Utilizing cross country and track and field personnel help bring added professionalism to such events and non-participating students may be credited with community service hours.
Outside of the major sports of football, basketball and baseball, rivalries can present challenges in getting off the ground; however, they can be developed with positive outcomes. Preserving the history of traditional rivalries can take center stage when athletic programs work together.
Teams from the rival sites can pool money from team fundraisers to purchase a plaque or symbolic trophy which records all team scores. At the end of the season, the team that wins the final head-to-head competition retains possession of the trophy for the remainder of the school year, generating school pride in a respectful way that honors past contests. This also gives coaches opportunities to reinforce positive behaviors before, during, and after contests.
The impacts of rivalries are long and storied, but the potential to create new opportunities for students is only limited by imagination. Whether schools bring more prestige to sports that may not traditionally have rivalries or create events that bring rivals together, the potential exists to create events that honor history, provide funds for teams, and give back to the community.
As long as high school athletics remain, rivalries will continue to bring out the best and worst; however, if schools recognize these contests as opportunities to create a more positive and respectful learning environment that values sportsmanship, they can continue to make a positive change in the lives of students.
About the Author
: Steve Amaro has been a USPTA certified tennis coach, athletic director (CMAA) and English teacher at Freedom High School in Oakley, California for the past 13 years as well as a current doctoral candidate in educational leadership at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. A current member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Accreditation Committee, he is also president of the North Coast Section Athletic Directors Association, a member of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Athletic Administrator Advisory Committee, a representative at the section level of the California Coaches Association (CCA), and an NIAAA LTI instructor at the state level.