Inappropriate student section themes harm sportsmanship, degrade others

Our student section should be about unity, not competition

By Nola Levings

Student sections have always used themes as a tool to unite and excite their students.

However, this year, the notions behind the theme for our student section at the Topeka High regional game were inappropriate and left marginalized groups feeling expendable.

Before every football game, and occasionally soccer game, students discuss through a group chat what themes they will dress up as.

One day before Lawrence High was to play Topeka High in regionals, members of the student section group chat brought up the idea of a “baby” theme for the game after learning that a Topeka High football player was a father. Most of the group’s members didn’t agree with the idea and played it off as a joke without a more serious recognition of the harm such a suggestion can cause. Teen parents already have to deal with the stress of raising a child while in school, and we should not add to their emotional baggage.

After learning of the “baby idea,” Principal Cynthia Johnson announced over the intercom that such behavior would not be accepted.

Mama J said it best when she told the school that the goal of every student section should be to uphold class and maintain a respectable school spirit. Banter is fun, but that shouldn’t mean suspending empathy when it comes to the opposing school.

Dressing up as infants with the intention to degrade a specific person can lead to an acceptance of this behavior off the field. The implications of that are far greater than the score of the game.

This is not a problem unique to this year.

It is not out of character for the city showdown football games to involve friendly banter and even end with a storming of the field by the winning team’s student section.

Lawrence High and Free State students have a long history of a high school rivalry, with both sides categorizing Free State as the “rich” and sometimes even “white” school, and both sides weaponizing that categorization for their own benefit.

The implications of that are far greater than the score of the game”

At the Oct. 25 city showdown football game, a Free State student came up to the Lawrence High student section and flashed fake hundred dollar bills. The initial reasoning for bringing money to the game was because it related to their theme “business/Purge.”

In the Lawrence High student section group chat, multiple members expressed how upset they were with the opposing team for their actions. Yet when it came to Topeka, we didn’t see the irony when it came to our attitude.

No students ended up using the “baby” theme, and the members of the group chat decided on a ski-wear theme. But Topeka High students were already aware of the planned stunt, and damage was likely already done.

If students can’t at least respect one another at these games, the next step should be to hold student section participants accountable for their actions. And perhaps it’s time to use our regularly-scheduled school-wide lessons about character issues to teach sportsmanship on and off the field.