Getting lost in the crowd

HAVE you got team spirit?

I’m referring to liking one team more than another. I’m talking about being so identified with one team or one school or one community that you call them “ours” or “we” when they win, even though you are not literally on the baseball team.

The fiercest rivalry in college sports in Los Angeles is between the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC). Fans come down on one side or the other, with no divided loyalties.

At my Bible study group, some of the guys enjoy some friendly ribbing regarding USC and UCLA, mostly over the outcome of the respective football and basketball teams.
Being from New York, I was brought up by my father to be a New York Yankees fan. He took me in his Chevy Impala to see Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Joe Pepitone play. Later, I would drive to the South Bronx to cheer on Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry and Graig Nettles.
I still like the Yanks, but really, I like baseball.

That means, I will cheer on other teams and even cheer another player from a “rival” team if he made a good play. Not being a Dodger fan, I admire Nomar Garciaparra as a very good player and a great guy. I enjoyed watching the Jackie Robinson tribute.

In college, can school spirit create a cliquish atmosphere? Can it segregate or be dangerous, especially if one doesn’t live and breathe school spirit? Or if one rejects it?

A psychologist was asked last week why school massacres occur mostly in small towns. He said often, places like University of Texas or Virginia Tech or Columbine have strong, sometimes smothering school identities. You’re either a Longhorn or a Hokie – no room for anything else. If you’re not doing the body painting and the identity disappearing act, then you’re an outcast. Criticize that school and you are labeled a traitor.

The psychologist on the TV talk show said the misfits of VT, UT, Columbine, etc., are so outcast that they lose all hope. The mentally unstable can blow. In physics talk, the force has no positive way to flow, so it finds an outlet.

I had an uncle in NYC who spoke of this in Italian family metaphors. “You’re either in or out,” he’d say. You’re either family or not. He’d jokingly come up to my sister-in-law – a Jew – who married my brother and say: “You can never be in. You’ll always be out.” He said the same thing to my wife, who hails from a white, Protestant, Scots-Irish background.

I always dismissed his antics as harmless joking. Likewise, I never saw anything sinister about “being true to your school now” as the Beach Boys sang 44 years ago.
Then it happened. I attended a “Jeopardy!” college championship taping Sunday on the USC campus. My wife, Karen, and my two boys, Matt, 17, and Andy, 15, are huge “Jeopardy!” buffs. Matt even tried out for the high school tournament and got a call back, but he fell a few answers shy of an appearance.

Of the three contestants was Cliff from UCLA. The USC people in the audience were rooting against the kid from UCLA from the get-go. The USC marching band was gesturing in appreciation when he missed a question. I know, I sat directly behind them. They didn’t applaud when he answered a “Daily Double” correctly. Even the adults, many dressed in USC cardinal and gold, did not cheer on the UCLA scholar. And these were adults – alums.

I was flabbergasted.

There was not a contestant competing from USC, and yet these USC alums and students still could not cheer a student from UCLA answering questions on a game show. That’s taking this school loyalty thing way too far.

Perhaps there’s something to that psychologists’ assessment of school spirit.
One final note: I attended University of California, Irvine in the late ’70s. The school did not have a “serious” mascot because they didn’t want the school to focus on athletics, so the students mockingly chose an anteater. Well, guess what? It stuck. They are the UCI Anteaters today, but the school does not have a football team.

I remember UCI founding Chancellor Dan Aldrich, who passed away in 1990, would tell the story about how the school did not have fraternities or sororities either. Again, the idea was not to divide the school society. Not to set up cliques where students not rich enough or not good-looking enough can feel ostracized or outcast. When I left UCI, the “Greek” movement had begun, to Aldrich’s displeasure.

Guess it is hard to stop human nature.

I can’t help but wonder if the joke is on them. That students who have to identify so heavily with a team or a school or a fraternity miss out on developing their own identity. It’s like that old Groucho Marx joke: I wouldn’t want to join a club that would have me as a member.

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About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

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