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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

High school students bring excitement to sports fandom

Groups of teenage fans having fun and acting silly as they root for their teams are what high school sports are supposed to be about.

January 13, 2013|Eric Sondheimer

There's something uniquely Americana about high school students showing up at a basketball game to scream, yell and act a little silly rooting for their team to win.

They call themselves The Cage, The Castle, The Bird Cage, The Pack, The Dome, The Green Hole …

It takes energy, organization and desire to create an electric atmosphere in a gymnasium, and I spent all this past week witnessing the drama and excitement attending a series of big games, where teenage fans came out en masse determined to have their voices heard.

I saw girls wearing fake mustaches; fans waving handmade signs; fans wearing hats that look as if they were discovered in a trash can; fans dressed in costumes more suited for Halloween; fans in Hawaiian shirts and tank tops even though the temperature outside was shivering cold.

At every game, there was one favorite chant repeated again and again that created instant bedlam: "I believe that we will win; I believe that we will win."

It's nice to see such self-confidence from teenagers. Unfortunately, the home team lost three of the four games, which meant I never got to see students storming onto the court to create a YouTube moment. But there was a lot to marvel at.

At West Hills Chaminade, the student section loves to tease and intimidate opponents. Late in a close game against Loyola, it looked as though the section was going to surround and engulf Loyola forward Andrew Johnson as he prepared to make an inbound pass on the sideline.

"I've never been that close to a crowd so emotional and so enthusiastic," Johnson said. "It brought a smile to my face. They're called The Cage for a reason. They're a bunch of people in one spot yelling. If we would have lost, they would have stormed the court."

The week's biggest surprise was the packed gymnasium at Newhall Hart for a game against West Ranch. It was still winter break for students, but they interrupted their vacation to show up and support their teams.

"It's awesome for our kids, it's awesome for our program, it's awesome for our school," West Ranch Coach Shant Bicakci said. "This is what high school basketball is about."

Added West Ranch center Ako Kaluna: "Having both crowds get into the game is something every player wishes they can play in."

It took less than three hours for Bellflower St. John Bosco to sell 900 tickets last Monday for its showdown game against visiting Santa Ana Mater Dei. The student section got to wave sticks with the faces of enlarged St. John Bosco basketball players.

Gary McKnight, the Santa Ana Mater Dei coach who has more coaching victories than anyone in state history, looked upon the packed gymnasium and seemed as excited as his players.

"This is what it's all about," he said. "This is why a lot of kids came to play at Mater Dei, to have an opportunity to play in big games like this."

At Thousand Oaks, the student section known as The Green Hole put on quite a show against Calabasas, which was supported by The Pack. There were students in green leotards. There was a Calabasas student dressed as yellow mustard.

They were having so much fun. The adults were amused and the players on the court were thrilled.

"There's lots of parts of athletics in public schools under duress, but it's refreshing going to a rivalry game and seeing it has a hometown feel," Calabasas Coach Jon Palarz said.

Added Thousand Oaks guard Tanner Fanjoy: "It's a crazy atmosphere."

It's exactly what high school sports is supposed to be about — having fun, rooting for your team and acting a little crazy.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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