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Field House perceptions ...

Note: The following is another in a series of columns on subjects of a philosophical, ethical or practical nature by a Schuyler County resident who prefers to go by the nom de plume of A. Moralis -- a reference to what the writer sees as the lack of a moral compass in the world during this rapidly changing Age of the Internet.

By A. Moralis

WATKINS GLEN, March 11, 2015 -- I enjoy studying people. They are fascinating, and one of my favorite venues for observing them is at high school sporting events. I say this because sports spectators exhibit many different and sometimes extreme emotions and reactions.

Accordingly, events after a recent Watkins Glen-Moravia boys varsity basketball game have been rolling around in my brain since they occurred -- as has the perception exhibited by some of the media about what happened that night. I have to say it: the reporting at news sites outside our area was off base, biased, skewed. I honestly don't know how to explain the accounts of the primary reporter from Auburn nor the sensationalism of the online newspapers in Auburn and Syracuse -- who deemed the postgame celebration a "melee." It wasn't.

But at the same time, I've given thought about how crowds in tight places may find their anger genes activated by the close proximity and by an environment that is much too loud.

Yes, something happened that night beyond basketball: unbridled joy on the part of Watkins Glen fans celebrating a postseason victory, joy that led students onto the court at game's end, a move that generated a couple of shoves -- seemingly precipitated by a Moravia player who lost self-control for a moment in the onslaught of bodies on the hardwood while he and his teammates were still there. Cooler heads prevailed, but those newspapers seemed to think it was a war zone out there, and unforgivable.

Unfortunately, the talk around Schuyler County in the days that followed often focused on those papers and their subtle suggestion that a cultural divide exists between fault-worthy fans of Watkins Glen on the one side, and -- I don't know -- maybe forgivable Moravians on the other.

The fact is, the focus should have been on the basketball itself where, let's face it, some serious pushing and shoving took place. It was a heck of a game.

A few days later, I asked the editor of this website (who had not, in the wake of the game, written about anything but the game itself, feeling that nothing else warranted attention) whether he had been paying attention to the criticism lobbed in the direction of the Watkins Glen faithful. He nodded at me and -- in a tendency he has sometimes to exaggerate things to make a point -- said: "Well, the criticism is understandable given the facts. I was out there during that fracas, and personally witnessed sixteen stabbings, eighteen clubbings, twenty-six shootings, three dismemberments and, worst of all, the death of two cute baby seals who wandered into the Field House at the wrong moment. That last was unforgivable."

Yeah, well, okay. Point made, I guess. The accounts in those papers to the north and east personified exaggeration.

But the simple fact is this: I was present for both the game and the postgame, and I'm here to tell you the former was remarkable and the latter anything but. There was no melee, no war zone ... not much of anything.


Having said that, I'm hoping the game and its aftermath will serve as a lesson to school officials that letting students rush the floor is a really poor idea fraught with potential for much worse than some shoving. And from what I'm hearing, the lesson might have been learned. I'm hearing that such demonstrations will not be allowed in the future, not without penalty to participating students.

That it took this postgame demonstration to drive the lesson home mystifies me, given the recent publicity surrounding similar (though larger) demonstrations on college campuses elsewhere in the country.

Now ... about the so-called Seneca Nation that populates home games on the south end of the court. We used to call them Bleacher Creatures.

They might do well to tone down their act.

Don't get me wrong. I love the Seneca Nation -- their school spirit and creativity -- but I did find some chants from that section offensive that night, or at the very least unsportsmanlike, and I think other fans felt the same way. Beyond that, I -- along with anyone else I've talked to about it -- feel the volume of the music and announcements emanating from the scorer's table should be toned down, too. That might slow the savage pulse of the sometimes rabid collective.

I realize that the roar of the crowd -- especially in the Field House, where fans know a thing or two about making noise -- is a grand tradition. And music helps to fuel the fervor. Mix in a talented, fast-break team such as Watkins Glen possessed this season and you have pulse-pounding excitement that builds and builds ... and sometime exceeds the bounds of common sense, just begging trouble.

No, I did not see a "melee" that night. But I did go away wondering why the students were allowed to storm the court, why the music was so loud, and for that matter why the police presence and almost all of the chaperones were at the other end of the gym, far away from the Bleacher Creatures. I suppose those are some things for the high school principal and athletic director to work out, hopefully soon.

If they do, maybe we can keep those anger genes suppressed in the Field House, and thus short-circuit any tendency toward unnecessary, excessive and -- I fear it's possible -- newsworthy behavior.



© The Odessa File 2015
Charles Haeffner
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