Sportsmanship Summit Aims to Improve Intense Rivalry Relationship

Lexe West, Staff Writer

Junction City versus Manhattan. There are only twenty-five miles between the two high schools, yet an intense rivalry has been going on for as long as most people can remember. Due to racially charged social media posts and inappropriate t-shirts, the tension between the two schools has finally reached its breaking point. On November 1st, Junction City held a sportsmanship summit between themselves and students and staff from Manhattan High School at the Devin Center in an attempt to resolve the ever growing issues among the students.

Head principals from both schools, student-athletes, coaches, and student council members attended the summit to represent the two schools in the student lead conversation about how to improve the rivalry between Junction City and Manhattan.

“It’s important to me to bring the right student leaders to start this dialogue,” said Melissa Sharp, Junction City High School principal.

The rivalry between Junction City and Manhattan has slowly migrated from light-hearted fun to intense acts of hate. At each game between the two schools security is brought in to ensure the safety of students from either team and to diffuse any fights that could potentially break out between fans. In the week leading up to the Manhattan vs Junction City football game hateful shirts were made by the students at Junction City and this sparked a slew of hateful and racist remarks from Manhattan students on social media.

In response, the administration from both high schools addressed that there needed to be an intervention to diffuse the already intense rivalry in order to protect the students on both sides.

The silver trophy- often the cause of spite between the two student bodies- was created in 1949 due to issues between the two rival schools when it came to sportsmanship, and it appears that within the last 68 years the schools have made their way back to where they started. School rivalries are meant to promote competition, not hate. The Manhattan athletic director claimed that the competition between Junction City and Manhattan has gone beyond sports and instead has become an attack on the community.

“If this is where it’s going, we need to stop competing,” said Randall Zimmerman, head football coach at Junction City High School. “We’ve lost our innocence.”

Sports are supposed to teach us about life, not be life. ”

— Matt Westerhaus, Junction City High School Atheltic Director.

The summit emphasized the importance of students acknowledging each other as people. At the beginning of the meeting, everyone in the room was tasked with the responsibility to get to know someone from the opposite school and introduce them to the group. The students intermixed, as well as teachers, and positive conversation flowed avidly amongst everyone.

The lighthearted conversation soon gave way to the more serious issues that brought the schools together. Administration from both schools voiced their fears that the rivalry between Manhattan and Junction City is quickly going down a dangerous and violent path.

Administration who attended elaborated on the hateful acts they have seen in recent years ranging from vandalism to hateful chants at the end of games. These were serious issues that needed to be addressed and it was up to the students to communicate ways to avoid such problems from happening again.

The students who attended the summit broke into three groups so that they could discuss ways to end the tension that is growing between the two student bodies on social media, in student sections, and at sporting events. The students all expressed the idea of promoting support for their own teams instead of attacking the opponent.

Both Junction City and Manhattan have large communities and this made way for a discussion about how to use the rivalry for a good cause. Using rivalry games to promote awareness of local issues and charities was an idea brought up at the meeting. The schools want to shift the hatred that is being expressed to kindness in attempts to aid more important issues.

“Sports are supposed to teach us about life, not be life,” said Matt Westerhaus, Junction City High School Atheltic Director.

Though a rivalry allows for more intense competitions, the leaders who attended the summit agreed that focus needed to be shifted to bettering relationships amongst students and promoting healthy expression. Everyone in the room agreed that change between the two schools would not be instantaneous but taking the first steps to initiating change was vital.

Both Junction City and Manhattan students spoke out about what they liked about their school and the answers that arose were similar from both sides. The students from either school were proud of the close community they had within their school and the bonds they were able to create through sports and competition. The answers shared from both of the students gave way to a realization that even though the students were from different cities, they were more alike than they were different.

Junction City High School and Manhattan High School appear to be on the right track towards mending broken relationships between the two schools. All of the students who attended left with contact information from peers from the opposite school and the administration appeared pleased with how the summit had gone.

“Our two communities are so large and the populations are so big as well that we could be doing so much more productively for our neighbors and the people who live in these communities instead of things that pull us apart,” said Ms. Sharp. “We’re so much better together in a positive way than we are in a negative light.”