If Perry Hall High School’s prom theme isn’t Flootloose this spring, they’ve missed a huge opportunity. As you know, Footloose is a film from 1984 (and a 2011 remake) about a town with regressive social mores that outlaws dancing.
In a baffling decision, Perry Hall, which plays in Baltimore County’s 4A athletic division, has banned its boys varsity soccer team for the remainder of the season, reports PerryHallPatch’s Emily Kimball. The cancellation of the season comes after Perry Hall’s postgame celebration following Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Dulaney in the state playoffs. The team’s heinous crime was performing a dance based on an Andrew McCarthy movie that was released when most of the kids on the team were fetuses. (You can see Ray Rice perform “the Bernie” against the Steelers here as an extra bonus.)
Having played and coached at the varsity level in Baltimore County public high school athletics, I’m absolutely embarrassed for all parties involved. This story is about a complete failure on the adults’ part to simply let the kids play. This is about a celebration that depending on who you ask, maybe was in poor taste. This is about an ill-fated attempt at a “teachable moment” as a response. This, frankly, is a joke.
An earlier report by PatchPerryHall’s Nick DiMarko cites comments from Dulaney supporters reporting “movements includ[ing] thrusting their hips at the crowd, and pointing to their genitals. It was appalling.” Without conclusive video or photos, we can’t be sure just how close this was to “taunting” versus “celebrating,” but let’s say for argument’s sake that was the case and that the Perry Hall kids were full-on waving their private parts at their aunties. Welcome to high school sports. There is the noble side of it, which everyone conveniently focuses on in these situations. The noble side is about the real value participating in high school sports and clubs provides. It teaches you work ethic, dealing with adversity, eating like an animal, healthy competition, and never seeing the sun for four months if you play a winter sport.
Then there is the real side of it — the side that anyone who pulled on an ill-fitting polyester jersey with your school’s name on it remembers. The bawdy, sometimes straight-up foul catchphrases and songs that become part of team traditions. The rank odor that can only a large group of 17 year-olds can produce. The whispered taunts and ribbing that coaches and officials never hear. Farting on the bus. Stuffing people into laundry carts. And sometimes yes, acting like you didn’t attend finishing school after a big win.
I’m not saying these things are essential to the high school team sports experience, or even the most valuable parts of it. I am saying that they exist, and nobody who played or coached a team sport can tell me anything different with a straight face. Even though their coach Pete Ebiner says that’s not the case, let’s assume the Perry Hall boys did the unthinkable and actually wagged their junk at the opposing team. Fine, that’s poor sporting behavior on any level. In what universe does the logic follow that they would be banned from all future matches. Did I miss something here? Did actually they murder Terry Kiser and bring out his corpse to dance with them?
The crux of my frustration, and more poignantly that of the students and players at Perry Hall, is that this consequence completely overshoots the action it’s trying to correct. That’s what education in its basest form is about, right? Actions and consequences? What sort of message does it send to the players that actions that harm nothing but the feelings of oversensitive soccer moms (sorry, that’s what they literally are in this case) eliminates you from competition?
Let’s get back to that Dulaney fan’s complaints from Nick DiMarco’s article. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but high school boys (and in my experience, varsity soccer players in particular) think and talk about sex and the the prospect of thereof roughly 99.3% of their waking lives. If the most humiliating thing they do is wave their covered junk on a soccer field and not pull a Joey Barton toward the opposing stands, that in itself must be considered some kind of minor victory. I went to high school (and played against Perry Hall and Dulaney) during the WWE’s glory days and the “Suck It” phenomenon. The fact that the football team didn’t do that after every touchdown still amazes me sometimes.
The American soccer enthusiast in me wants to shout “this is why we’ll never win a World Cup!,” although that’s probably rash and illogical. Still, part of me wonders if this were a different sport if an athletic administration would know better how to handle the situation in terms of a punishment. If this were a tackle football game, which comes with a much different culture and tolerance level for “exuberant displays of team spirit” we’ll call them, do you think Perry Hall would’ve been banned completely? Is it because the community doesn’t expect this type of behavior from soccer specifically that they are so appalled and outraged?
But perhaps I’ve digressed too far. The point is not that this is the cultural norm so it should be tolerated. The point is that human behavior, especially in communities, is either incentivized or negatively reinforced by those in positions of power. In no level of soccer or business or anything these kids pursue the rest of their lives will they be completely kicked out for a jovial group celebration after a victory. This logic seems to only exist in this instance and serves no purpose other than to play it safe against the fears of an oversensitive suburban culture.
It’s like a plotline from a forgotten, bad season of “Friday Night Lights.” Everything has happened like it would in Dillon, Texas to a “T.” Even the students are outside protesting. The difference is that shows like “FNL” try and bring things back around to a resolution that doesn’t infuriate its viewers. People overreact, justice is eventually served and everyone comes to their senses and the Panthers are allowed to play in their next game in the nick of time.
Sadly for the Perry Hall Gators, it’s unlikely that things will wrap up so tidily like an NBC family drama would. Unless the Sanity Fairy makes a special visit to Belair Road, the Gators will indeed forfeit their regional semifinal match today against Blake.
I hope everyone here has learned their lesson. I hope those hardworking Perry Hall Gators have learned that dancing is the most immoral, disgusting thing you can do and that you should be ashamed of winning. I hope the Dulaney players have learned that even when you try and lose with grace, the adults on your side can make your entire school look unfairly callow. I hope the parents who called for this action and the administrators who executed this decision have learned that all you have to do to teach good sportsmanship is mete out punishment like a fire hose extinguishing a Yankee Candle.
Just to play it safe, I shall never dance again.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com