The roar of a high school football game is enough to get any sports fan excited. Often, though, a peaceful night of fun can turn sour when fans disagree with a call or see the opposing team racking up points on the board. It’s no surprise that violence at school football games in America is a growing concern.
This fall, in Berkeley, California, games on the East Bay were postponed and even stopped mid-game due to acts of violence. Active threats and fights moved from social media to the stands at Berkeley High School, prompting officials to assess whether the games could continue without a risk to public safety. Erring on the side of caution, attendance was suspended, forcing players to finish the games in an empty stadium.
The game of football, played by roughly 1.1 million high school students, is under increased scrutiny, as the poor sportsmanship of a few keeps schools on alert regarding security and student safety. While some schools turn to metal detectors and security guards to keep the peace, others are seeing students step up and promote kindness and civility, win or lose.
At Hudsonville High School in West Michigan, a group of student leaders have donned the name “SuperFans” and are committed to improving campus culture through their actions. Perched in a wooden structure they call the “Eagles Nest” above the student section, SuperFan Colson Ceglarek hops on the mic to lead his peers in a chant. “We just try to make as much of a positive influence on this school as we can.” says Ceglarek, who jumps down from his perch to talk with me. “We’re trying to leave a legacy. The way that we can do that is by impacting every single person in a positive way.”
It was hearing of the students’ peaceful response to a rowdy rival team that brought me to the stadium to hear their story. As a youth speaker, I had shared my message on peacefully responding to social aggression during an assembly just weeks before. I was curious to hear how they used the skills that I taught when berated with insults during a previous game.
“We were competing against East Kentwood.” explains Dr. Nick Ceglarek, Hudsonville District Superintendent. “At the end, we were losing, and EK started to chant. The whole student body, instead of responding verbally, put up a Peace Sign. To see all 750 or 1,000 kids do that was pretty cool. Several of us said that they definitely got something out of your presentation.”
Colson nods, “When you came in and spoke to us we were moved and wanted to show everybody else what you said. When there was a bad call, instead of booing, like the other schools, we raised the peace sign. They were telling us ‘You guys are trash. You guys played a bad game.’ We just kept on giving them a peace sign. They were like “What the heck are you doing? This is so dumb.’ We knew it was working. They were getting flustered and we weren’t.
Colson recalls, “It was dead silent in our student section but the message got across loud and clear. It doesn’t matter what they think. It matters what we think. We think that our school is the greatest. Let’s be positive.”