Palo Alto and Los Gatos students meet for a sportsmanship summit

A fter multiple instances of violent behavior that left students banned from attending games between the two schools, student leaders met to negotiate and renew a healthy rivalry for the 2019-2020 season and beyond. Student representatives from the two school Schools the two schools met at the neutral location of Fremont High for a “Positive Sports Summit” on April 29.

Ten students, and the Athletic directors from each school attended the event. Palo Alto principal Adam Paulson was also in attendance. Senior Katie McEnroe, a varsity dance team member from Los Gatos, said she enjoyed the opportunity to talk to students from another school.

“I really liked meeting the kids from Paly, and since I have never been to the Palo Alto High School campus, it was cool to see how really similar we are,” McEnroe said.

Last November, after a home boys basketball game against Los Gatos, a fight broke out in the parking lot. Local police responded, and administrators from both schools addressed the incident by separating fans into two sections at the next game, one on each side of the court. Los Gatos fans were forced to enter through an alternate entrance at their home game, but the tensions were still high according to McEnroe.

After the conclusion of the winter sports season, administrators from each school announced that student fans would be banned from all sports game until further notice. This included fans attending  lacrosse, baseball and softball games in the spring as well as all fall sports if a resolution had not been made by then. In the announcement statement, a “Positive Sports Summit” also was planned.

For the first part of the summit, students listened to a presentation about safe social media use presented by Steve Henderson from the Positive Coaching Alliance, a non-profit which provides training workshops to coaches, parents and players.

Topics Henderson covered included creating one’s personal brand online, keeping one’s school image clean and never putting down others. Following the presentation, small groups of students were created to draft a sportsmanship statement. This one paragraph excerpt will be read  that captains from the home the start of every contest between the two schools for the 2019-2020 season.

The statement, which has not been completed, will include themes such as respect, sportsmanship or fairness in its final state.

Palo Alto Athletic Director Therren Wilburn chose the Paly delegation that attended the summit. Each student is respected within their sport program and will be a pillar of change moving forward, Wilburn said.

“When assessing which students to bring I inquired with coaches and school administrators. I believe that we wanted to have well-rounded representatives of Paly, and I believe we accomplished that with who attended the event.”

Wilburn, Paly Athletic Director

McEnroe, however, said the students from Los Gatos who attended were chosen based on how much trouble they were capable of making.

“I believe that LG brought some of the most popular, talented, male and testosterone-infused kids from the teams who would probably be the ones to start trouble, and I do not know if I saw that exact demographic from Paly,” McEnroe said. “It would have been cool to see the exact same types of boys from each school.”

Los Gatos Athletic Director Ken Perrotti did not respond to email requests for an interview.

Among the delegation from Palo Alto was sophomore Lulu Gaither. As a varsity water polo and lacrosse player, Gaither said she feels strongly about the issue of banning students because of how it has a direct effect on the lacrosse games she plays in. Gaither said she doesn’t support  a ban on student attendance at Paly-Los Gatos games and said the summit was a helpful way to make positive change.

“It’s really unfortunate and unfair that we are not allowed to have friends and schoolmates come to support us at games,” Gaither said. “But I think that the summit was really helpful. I had a lot of hate towards individual Los Gatos players, but after talking to the students, I noticed we actually have a lot in common.”

History teacher and Paly alumni DJ Shelton said he remembers a time when the rivalry was a healthy one.

Once fans get involved and reverse that mindset of becoming the most obnoxious as possible, the dynamic becomes toxic,” Shelton said. “When I was a student at Paly, that was not the dynamic between us and LG, much less any other school. Individually negative comments might have been said, but it never became a school-wide effort to belittle and attack the opponent.”

Shelton said the unhealthy rivalry has spread for two reasons. First, technology has helped the spread of hate between the two schools.  

“Individual interactions and occurrences (especially social media posts) that belittled an individual (from both schools) then get blown out of proportion due to sharing and rumor-spreading,” Shelton said. “The typical adolescent response to these situations tends to inflame situations, not pacify them, which is then multiplied by the power of social media.”

Next, Shelton said the other reason for the toxicity coming from both schools has to do with a small number of students looking for attention.

“There is clearly a group of students at each school that has gone out of their way to make their presence at sporting events known with inappropriate comments and behavior,” Shelton said. “They feel they’re being funny and clever, with little to no regard for the general well-being of healthy competition and safe environments.”

Gaither also thinks that a healthy rivalry should stay on the field and should not be blown out of proportion through social media and the internet.

“I think the rivalry used to be towards the school but some individuals started making it unhealthy. A healthy rivalry should be more about competition and not about hating each other and going after each other outside the sport.”

Lulu Gaiter, Sophomore

Although the rivalry might have gone too far last year, there are plenty of reasons to get it back to normal according to McEnroe and Shelton. This rivalry has been going on for so many years according to Wilburn and both Shelton and McEnroe love the ideas of having games with such historical significance.

“That competition (when playing a rival) brings out the best athlete in you,” Shelton said. “As an athlete, your rivalry game should always be the one you offer up for film to illustrate your ability and focus.”

McEnroe agrees and said rivalries usually motivate players to play their hardest in front of their fiercest opponents. McEnroe also thinks the summit was productive and helpful.

“The Paly-LG rivalry really entertains me,” McEnroe said. “I enjoyed attending the event, and I hope to see our words and ideas put into the statements we drafted

According to Wilburn, a second summit with the same participants will be planned in the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

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