SL, Spencer students heal rivalry

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Spencer High School seniors Bre Small and Mercedes Unger enjoy a pizza lunch with Storm Lake seniors Kevin Duque and Brayden Hoops in the Spencer High School library during the second student ambassadors meeting on Nov. 17. The program is designed to build and grow relationships between the two rival districts.

The showdown between last year’s Class 3A District champion Storm Lake Tornadoes and Spencer Tigers on the football field Oct. 13 provided two headline moments. The Tigers scored what many considered an upset on the field in a closely contested game, and a short time later, in the parking lot, a Spencer student suffered a cardiac arrest which turned into a statewide news story in the following days and weeks. Lost amidst the game and subsequent parking lot emergency was the ugliness which occurred closer to the field in the aftermath of the contest.

According to Storm Lake Principal Beau Ruleaux, a group of visiting Spencer fans reportedly made racist comments to Storm Lake students and fans. The event sparked an apology from Spencer School District Superintendent Terry Hemann.

Ruleaux said rising tensions have been seen between the two factions at several different sporting events. “This has been building up,” he said.

Spencer High School Principal Elli Wiemers agreed. “Storm Lake High School and Spencer High School enjoy healthy rivalry in sports competition. However, the tone can become negative between students of both schools and between parents of both schools.”

The lack of civility prompted both schools to seek out what they hope will help allow students the opportunity to bridge those differences.

Ruleaux came up with an idea to invite a number of student “ambassadors” and the principal from Spencer to spend the day in the Storm Lake school earlier this month. Students from the two schools were paired and attended the day’s classes and events together.

“The high school administration from both SHS and SLHS got together with the idea of a student exchange to create an ambassadorship between the schools,” Wiemers said.

She added, “The visit concluded with conversation over pizza about how our schools are the same, how they’re different, and what the kids think about competition and rivalry.”

“It’s good to have real rivals, and to go out in sports and compete as hard as you can, but it doesn’t have to spill over,” Ruleaux said.

“The greatest thing about the conversation between kids was that it was really just about school, comparing things like rules about cellphones, backpacks and what school lunches taste the best at each school,” Wiemers said. “It wasn’t about race. When Mr. Ruleaux... asked them about race and the impact it has on competition on the field or on the court, the kids said enough of them know one another that they count on each other to squelch comments on each team.”

On Friday, Nov. 17, the Storm Lake ambassadors made their visit to Spencer, spending approximately four hours together again, enjoying a financial literacy assembly as part of the day.

Spencer seniors Mercedes Unger and Bre Small were among the students who volunteered to participate in the program. Small responded to a survey seeking participants willing to visit Storm Lake. She said that so many students wanted to volunteer that 18 names had to be drawn from a hat.

She elaborated, “I learned that we’re not all that different. We have cultural differences, but we’re all students getting an education and that ties us together... I hope they see that we’re not different, we may not be as diverse... but I think that gives [Storm Lake] an advantage. They have so much more to learn, and share with each other and I was thankful I had the pleasure to experience that.”

Kevin Duque, a senior at Storm Lake, said, “What I have learned through the first two meetings is that there isn’t much of a difference between schools. Yes there are some, but a majority of things are similar.”

“We’re all one community,” Small said. “We are only 38 miles apart. Hopefully this will help students learn and to keep this program going over the next couple years. And hopefully, in the spring we will meet up again and we could go for a full day and get the whole experience.”

Brayden Hoops, also a Storm Lake senior, said, “We’re the same and shouldn’t disrespect people because they live in a different town or look different whether it’s clothes, race or personality... The fighting has to stop and we can get along if we continue to make these efforts a priority over our emotions.”

Both sides suggested the inflammatory rhetoric made following the rivalry game were motivated by the behavior of a select few.

“I believe that the issues are isolated to a few individuals who get too worked up in the competition,” Duque said,

Unger too suggested the behaviors which sparked the start of the student ambassadors program are limited. “Other than the comments from that night, I have never heard any hate toward the Storm Lake schools.”

“I believe a few individuals started it, but the rest of the group on both sides followed and were also a part of it,” Hoops said. “There are great kids from Spencer and I’ve seen the willingness of both sides wanting to change the rivalry.”

“For the most part I think both schools respect each other,” Duque said. “Therefore, we should treat each other just as we treat ourselves... Although a game may get competitive and intense, at the end of day we must respect one another.”

Representatives from both schools hope these first two ambassadors visits serve as a start to a brighter future between the two school districts.

“I guess I feel the same way I did before, but stronger,” Unger said following the second visit in Spencer. “I think it would be great to see other schools join in, and build that camaraderie between our communities.”

“It was a great experience that should be done more often in order for teens to connect more,” Duque said.

Spencer Principal Wiemers thanked SLHS Principal Ruleaux for starting the idea. “The kids loved the visit, as did I,” she said, adding that her school will also ask parents to practice good sportsmanship at all activities.

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