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OPINION: Poor behavior mutes the enjoyment of prep competition, but rivalries can be healthy

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As a really fun and exciting basketball season in Utah is reaching its peak time, ugly allegations of improper conduct by students and other fans at several recent games have surfaced and launched investigations, prompting the UHSAA to issue the accompanying statement.

Unfortunately, among the incidents referred to is a report of racial slurs used by fans during Lehi’s home games with Westlake last week on Tuesday (Feb. 6). The accompanying letter from Principal Tim Brantley shows the school administration’s swift and decisive response.

That letter also indicates that when it was written, school officials could not confirm that such an incident had, in fact, taken place. As of noon on Monday (Feb. 12), they still can’t.

I was present during both those games and didn’t hear anything like that, nor did anyone else I have talked to so far.

This is not to say that the incident didn’t happen, but if it did, most people in the arena – including school staff members who are stationed around the gym throughout all home contests – were unaware of it.

That doesn’t make it less reprehensible if it did happen, though. Let me be clear. The staff at the Lehi Free Press joins school and UHSAA officials in condemning unsportsmanlike behavior of any kind and supports appropriate consequences for anyone proven to have committed the same.

Those who are responsible for such incidents at any venue spoil the prep athletics experience for everyone.

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That being said, I would like to compliment the players, coaches and fans overall on their deportment during the high-stakes games between Skyridge and Lehi this hoops season.

One boys basketball player called the competition between the two schools “the biggest rivalry in all of Utah.”

Not everyone would agree with that assessment, especially because it’s so new, but it would be hard to argue the point when it comes to at least this season’s football and basketball contests for both genders.

The football game drew perhaps the biggest crowd ever in Lehi prep history. The basketball games at both venues were played before standing-room-only crowds and included many of the moments that make high school athletics such an enjoyable, positive experience most of the time.

Let’s take a look at Friday’s Senior Night events at Lehi for some examples.

Lehi junior forward Ellie Hill belted out a stirring rendition of the National Anthem before her game, prompting one person sitting near me to opine that she ought to be invited to sing it at the Lehi Roundup Rodeo – a worthy suggestion – and provoking an enthusiastic response from the entire crowd.

The girls team also called out the Skyridge seniors before their own Senior Night recognitions and presented each one with a gift.

Before the boys game, the Anthem was rendered by a group of students enrolled in a post-high-school training program for those with disabilities. One sang and the others signed the words of the song. Their performance was also greeted by appreciative roars from all corners of the arena.

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During both well-played games, team members from both squads helped pick each other up when opponents hit the deck and treated each other with respect even though emotions were high. The student sections had spirited exchanges but behaved themselves for the most part.

In their post-game interviews, all four coaches gave props to their counterparts on the other side and spoke with appreciation of the big crowd and intense atmosphere.

As after the football game, I checked with law enforcement officers on duty and they said the crowd dissipated without any notable incidents.

This is the way it could and should always be. Let’s all do everything we can to make sure it stays that way.

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