(News-Herald, September 27) So it’s time once again for The Big Game. I don’t usually get very worked up about the Great Oil City – Franklin sports rivalry, but if I’m going to watch one of these games, here are things I don’t want to see:
Fake School Spirit: There’s the fair-weather fan, the person who only shows up when the home team is wining. And then there’s the person who doesn’t care about the sport at all—they just like an excuse to start a fight.
Friday night there will be students trolling the stadium and parking lot, completely oblivious to the game while they hunt for an excuse to fight with someone from the opposing school.
The faux school spirit strikes in surprising places some times. Years ago, there was some spectacular breaking, entering and vandalism committed on OCHS by a student who was more or less from Franklin. This was a student who, on any other day, had to be dragged into school with a block and tackle attached to a team of clydesdales. If on football night, you usually just stay home not caring, don’t change your tradition just for The Big Game.
Civic Vandalism: If your child asked to go next door and paint “You stink!” all over the neighbor’s house, I’m guessing most parents would say no. But late tonight, carloads of teenagers will make the trip up and down river to leave their mark on the other’s city. Which is doubly silly considering that most of the students in the two schools live in neither Franklin nor Oil City.
Freakish Loss of Perspective: Look. If you’re in the stands at a high school football game screaming and ranting and busting a blood vessel as if the fate of Western Civilization were riding on that pigskin, you need to take a serious look at your life.
For decades, the two teams have been coached by men from That Other Town. Teachers, staff, parents, alumni and various other bystanders live in one town and work in the other. Graduates of the two schools have been known to meet, date and even marry each other!
These days, the city’s fates are linked more closely than ever; it just seems silly to pretend that some massive point of civic pride rests on this game. A rivalry depends on some long history of offense and grudge, but our history is too intertwined.
Remember the time that one player from Franklin—oh, wait—he married an Oil City girl and works in Cranberry. Well, how about that one Oil City coach—no, wait—his kids grew up playing for Franklin teams.
You can’t have family feuds when there’s only one family. If we need to nurse a grudge, may I suggest Every Team from Erie.
Classless Behavior: Too many years the classiest behavior in the whole stadium is that of the young men on the field, while too many people in the stands (some of them old enough to know better) act like classless jerks.
Class doesn’t mean a lack of pride. There’s plenty of class in saying, “We are proud of who we are, and we will fight harder and longer and stronger than anyone else to uphold our pride.”
There’s no class in saying “You stink and we hate you and we hope you get hurt and die.” It was hokey when your kindergarten teacher told you, but it’s still true—you can’t build yourself up by tearing other people down. And it’s silly—I feel certain that Oil City and Franklin folks smell about the same.
The majority of fans young and old are great, and the sense of occasion that surrounds The Big Game can be kind of exciting. And I do put a lot of stock in school spirit—I think at the very least it’s a way to learn about devoting heart to something bigger than yourself. I’m proud of the school where I teach, the people I teach with, and the students past and present who have come through that building. I hope our team plays with guts and heart and strength and class, and I hope they win.
I guess that’s why I always hope that the Big Game won’t be wrapped up in too much foolishness. It’s ironic, I guess—on the field, no one can appreciate the hard work and blood and sweat and heart and guts that a team devotes to the game better than the other team. And in Franklin and Oil City, we’ll never find a town more like our own than our neighbors at the other end of Route 8.
So go to the game, cheer with noise and pride for our teams, and walk out of the stadium afterwards remembering who and where we are.