Metro

Yvonne Abraham

A game where the fans were the winners

HOLLISTON — Does the ugliness at last Friday’s basketball game between Catholic Memorial and Newton North have you feeling despondent about high school sports?

Here’s your antidote.

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It happened a week earlier, at a playoff game between Holliston High and Concord-Carlisle High, and it was gorgeous.

The Holliston Panthers, making their first playoff appearance in a decade, were woefully outmatched by the powerhouse Patriots.

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So how did the students behave at the game? Did frustrated Holliston fans cast aspersions on the Concord kids’ masculinity? After Concord opened up a huge early lead, did their fans yell “Scoreboard, scoreboard,” rubbing Holliston’s faces in it?

No and no. This game was different from the start. Each crowd cheered for its own players, rather than trying to tear the other team’s down. Then, with Concord up 30 points at halftime, extreme kindness ensued.

The Concord fans started chanting “You guys are chill!” at Holliston, bestowing the ultimate in adolescent affirmation. Holliston returned, repeating, “We respect you!”

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Then, all together: “Sportsmanship! Sportsmanship!”

As the valiant Holliston players’ clocks continued to be cleaned, the gym erupted into song, both sets of fans united in “Sweet Caroline” and then, “Don’t Stop Believin’. ”

Parents and coaches had never seen anything like it.

“We were blown away,” said Matt Baker, Holliston’s athletic director. “We always talk to our kids about sportsmanship, and it was gratifying to know they were listening.”

Concord-Carlisle athletic director Barry Haley has been running high school sports for 29 years. Sometimes, even when his teams have been successful, postseason games were “like going to the dentist five times in a row, because the kids didn’t get it,” and insulted opponents, he said. They got it at the Holliston game.

“That was one of the best games I’ve ever been associated with,” Haley said. “We have a very good team, but I tell you, the spirit of that game is what it’s supposed to be about.”

For one beautiful night, those kids seemed to understand what that yahoo who always seems to sit near your kid at the game hurling ugly abuse at the players seems incapable of comprehending.

“It was an athletic competition,” Haley said. “One team was better than another. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.”

Imagine that. Tim Dibble, whose son Ben was leading cheers for Concord-Carlisle, has seen plenty of ugliness in these situations. He said the Holliston kids set a different tone.

“They brought out the best in our fans,” he said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chief instigators of Holliston’s civility outbreak credit the Concord fans.

“It’s rare you come across a student section like theirs,” said junior Sam Athy. “They were mature and respectful. Usually, when a team is winning by that much, they rub it in our faces.”

It’s not like the Holliston fans don’t get “chippy at times,” junior Jake Obid said. “Everybody does. We’re high school kids.”

But he doesn’t think they’d cross the line like those at last Friday’s game did, the taunts escalating until the Catholic Memorial kids got anti-Semitic.

Haley, the athletic director at Concord-Carlisle, said he’s noticed fans using more restraint at all games since news of that debacle broke.

“It was a sobering moment,” he said.

Concord-Carlisle will play for the state championship in Springfield Saturday night.

Holliston will be back at it again next year, hoping to best this year’s remarkable record. Because exemplary conduct only goes so far.

“As nice as it is to be kind,” Obid said, “we’d rather be winning.”

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.
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