Woods Cross chant insensitive, but hardly warrants more than lecture

Sunday , October 08, 2017 - 5:00 AM2 comments

MARK SAAL, Standard-Examiner Staff

Are you ready for the latest stop-the-presses moment? This just in: High school students, acting the fool at a football game.

I know, it’s almost inconceivable.

By now, you’ve no doubt heard the story about a certain three-word phrase chanted during the rivalry football game between Woods Cross and Bountiful high schools. Depending on which news organization you believe, the Woods Cross student section — while holding aloft a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump — chanted either “Build that wall!” or “Build the wall!” It could have even been “Build a wall!”

Whatever.

They may as well have been chanting “Build-a-Bear,” for all the sense it made.

RELATED: District apologizes for student-led 'build the wall' chant at Woods Cross game

The chant angered any number of community members, who insisted it was a thinly veiled racial slur. They accused the students of creating a hostile environment for some in the crowd.

Huh. Imagine that. Sports fans creating a hostile environment at a rivalry game involving the most violent sanctioned athletic competition teenagers play at the high school level.

I remember my first rivalry game. I was a seventh-grader at Butler Junior High School in the Salt Lake Valley, and we were playing a home basketball game against our rivals, nearby Union Junior High School.

The game was held early one Friday afternoon, on our home court, during school hours. As young people are wont to do when they’re getting out of school early just before the weekend, the student body began to get a little frisky. Some friendly cat-calling, some light booing, a well-timed “Miss it!” whenever an opposing player stepped to the free-throw line — stuff like that.

After all, it was a sporting event. We’d played enough Little League baseball to know that distracting chatter (“Heyyyy, batta, batta, batta …”) was not only appropriate, it was expected.

In the midst of all this, our assistant principal — who was clearly the latter in that time-honored principal/assistant principal dynamic of Good Cop/Bad Cop — stopped the game. Grabbing the announcer’s microphone, he stomped his way to center court and over a squealing P.A. system shouted “This is not how Butler Junior High students act!” He then spent the next five minutes lecturing us on sportsmanship.

The lecture went over about as well as you’d expect, considering it was a bunch of 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds amped up for the weekend. But then, Mr. Bad Cop said something that got our full attention: If we didn’t start behaving like proper little ladies and gentlemen he’d send us all back to class and the rest of the game would be played to an empty gymnasium.

Back to class? On a Friday afternoon? From then on, it was so quiet and polite you’d have thought it was a night at the symphony.

That early experience was a far cry from the next memorable rivalry game I attended, as a sophomore at the University of Utah. The Ute football team had an away game against our bitter rivals, the Brigham Young University Cougars. Many Ute fans entered the stadium in Provo that fateful Saturday afternoon sporting festive red and white T-shirts emblazoned with the spoonerism “Cuck the Fougars.” Not only that, but every time the rowdy visitors didn’t agree with Bro. Referee’s call — which was quite frequently, since we lost by something like seven touchdowns that day — someone would start a chant that began with “Bull” and ended with a word that, at the very least, violated the spirit of the BYU Honor Code.

Fast-forward to the present day. In the aftermath of the controversial Woods Cross chant, some students took to Twitter to claim that it wasn’t a reference to Donald Trump’s plans to prevent illegal border crossings from Mexico. Rather, they insisted, it was just their team’s regular old third-down chant, used when their defense was facing a crucial play.

Right. And those “Cuck the Fougars” T-shirts Ute fans wore were simply whimsical nonsense words that had no hidden meaning other than to make people smile at the random placement of letters.

Look, I’m not excusing what these high school students did. It was stupid of them. But that’s exactly why they’re still in school — to learn. And this was certainly a learning opportunity.

Any disciplinary action beyond a stern “This is not how Woods Cross High students act!” lecture would be overkill.

Besides, you can’t be too hard on a group of teenagers who were simply mimicking adults who’ve chanted that — and worse — for a couple of years now.

So yes, WX students, yelling “Build that Wall” was immature and insensitive of you. But don’t worry, because soon enough you will graduate from high school, and with your college and professional sports teams you can be as offensive as you like.

Until then, if you feel the need to get political with your chants, might I offer a couple of less offensive options? For example, whenever your team is called for a holding penalty, you could chant the defiant “Lock ’em up!” Or, when you signal-caller throws that second interception?

I suggest an angry “Not my quarterback!” chant.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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