by Chris Hunt
I was very impressed the first time I entered Hough High School’s spacious basketball gym. It was Dec. 8, and the Huskies were hosting nearby Lake Norman Charter. I arrived just before the girls basketball game, and both student sections already were rocking.
What followed were two thunderous, energetic games that would have made Duke University’s “Cameron Crazies” proud. Neither student section pulled back until the Hough boys finally won in overtime, securing their first victory in school history. The celebration that followed was something to remember, even though Hough officials wisely deterred students from storming the court.
The following week, I came back to see Hough take on Hopewell in another local rivalry game, and the energy was still through the roof – even though the Huskies lost the girls and boys varsity games. It was an impressive start for the first-year program. Hough’s players must’ve gotten chills from the response during introductions alone.
So imagine my surprise when I returned after the holidays to find the Hough gym silent during a conference game against Vance.
The empty bleachers reminded me of that scene in the 1989 movie “Major League,” when the camera scans the bumbling Cleveland Indians’ sparse attendance in the outfield bleachers. The Hough student section that once was stuffed with supporters was now mostly empty, sans a pocket of attendees who, in this modern-day case, were busy texting instead of watching the game.
What happened to all the energy in the gym?
I got my answer when a concerned Hough parent called me a few days later. The parent wouldn’t reveal his identity for fear his child would be treated unfairly by school officials, but he did say many other parents were just as troubled with the direction of the athletic program.
My curiosity piqued when seven more parents called over the next two weeks. Just like the first caller, they felt school administration had squashed a once-promising athletic environment.
The first parent told me attendance was down because students were upset after new rules were instituted to restrict their activity during games. He told me students in the bleachers were no longer allowed to stand up or chant in unison. He added that students from visiting teams took advantage, lobbing unified insults such as “No school spirit!” at the Hough section.
A few days later, the parent’s words were confirmed when I approached the handful of still-loyal Hough students at the next home game. They told me their peers weren’t interested in coming anymore because games weren’t as fun as they used to be.
Those rules were put in place by the school administration after an unpleasant incident at North Mecklenburg on Dec. 16, when Hough and North Meck student sections took their jeers a little too far. I won’t go into detail about what was said, but after one particularly brutal cheer, I witnessed Hough students “request” a meeting with North Meck students outside the gym. Fortunately, the Viking contingent didn’t follow the Hough students out the door.
The first parent who called me didn’t have a problem with Hough officials addressing the students’ behavior – he added that their actions at North Meck were unacceptable. But like many of the parents I spoke to, the first caller felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Several other anonymous callers used the phrase “ruling with an iron fist” to describe Hough’s disciplinary actions.
The first parent who called me added that the athletic events should be about the students first – not the parents or administrators. He said school officials needed to work with students to find an appropriate solution instead of abruptly dictating policy that siphoned school spirit.
To be fair, I called Hough athletics director Masanori Toguchi to get the school’s side of the story. Unlike the parents, Toguchi was willing to go public with his version of the events. He said there was a misconception about the rules, which were put in place well before the North Meck incident.
“From Day 1, we had two rules: No singling out spectators or players, and it’s about the game – keep it classy,” said Toguchi. “Hough’s expectations of its students is to cheer for your peers in athletic competition.”
Toguchi added that student cheers are allowed at games as long as he or Hough Principal Teri Cockerham approve them ahead of time. And as for the sudden lack of student attendance, those were decisions beyond his control.
“The kids made the choice not to attend the games anymore,” said Toguchi, who was at an athletics director conference during the week of the North Meck game. “I met with the student body (after the North Meck incident), and a lot of kids did not show up. Those who did, I gave them our expectations for behavior during games. I told them only to say things that their parents would be proud of and (that) if it makes other parents cover their kid’s ears; it’s inappropriate.”
When I got off the phone with Toguchi, I was more confused then ever. He made a convincing argument, and he was willing to make it public. Toguchi even welcomed concerned parents to meet with him.
“I have an open-door policy,” said Toguchi. “If parents want to take the initiative to talk about it, I’m available by phone, e-mail or in person.”
As for what I think?
I don’t have all the answers, but my guess is what have here is failure to communicate – on both sides of the fence. My hope is that anyone reading this column will set up a public meeting with the Hough administration to voice concerns.
It would be nice if the students, parents and school officials can figure it all out, because I really enjoyed covering my first two games in Hough’s rocking gym.