We turn right onto a wide parking lot. The buildings, not higher than two or three stories, are a good distance off the main street. The Star-Spangled Banner is prominently positioned. I’m about to enter my first U.S. high school, and it looks exactly like I had imagined.
We are in Cheshire, just a few miles north of Hamden. I feel, however, strangely reminded on Hamden. There’s a wide, busy road going through the town from south to north, restaurants, supermarkets, and drug stores are located to the left and right of it. We pass the agglomeration of stores that flag up on both sides of the road. Are we back in Hamden? This here looks identical to the shopping district there. But it can’t be, it’s the opposite direction.
The reason for this visit to Cheshire’s high school is another first for me – high school basketball. I’ve only seen one live basketball game before. A good friend of mine took me to a Raptor’s game when I stayed in Toronto a couple of years ago. I loved the experience – thanks, Jon! So I had an idea and a certain expectation of both the game and the event that awaited me tonight.
High school sports is non-existent in Germany. We have sports classes and we exercise, play even basketball or flag football, but we don’t have teams and so no competitions or events like this.
Obviously, I didn’t expect to see a spectacle that could compare to a full-fledged NBA game. But I was interested to observe this part of American culture. Just dive in, I thought, and be part of the culture.
When I think back to my high school, I see the two gyms we had, a small and a big one. Depending on what kinds of sports we practiced, we used either one.
Entering Cheshire’s gym, I notice small stands along both sides of the hall – maybe ten rows high. I am surprised, hadn’t expected to find a gym double the size of our big one. I don’t even begin to speak about the stands. The red and white colors of Cheshire High embellish the location, robbing it of its cold appearance.
People enter the gym. Slowly, the stands get packed. The game is about to begin, I can’t find too many empty seats.
I am surprised and, at the same time, not surprised to find myself in the same family-friendly atmosphere I had experienced in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. I am not surprised because I had connected basketball with families ever since. I am surprised, however, because I hadn’t thought that high school basketball would feel so similar.
In contrast to the *basketball atmosphere*, European football (in America also known as soccer) takes place in a more aggressive atmosphere. Applauding for the players of the visiting team? It’s the opposite. And booing is just a mild form of rivalry you would experience in a stadium. When a team disappoints over a longer period, things can get rough. Hooligans like the ones you will see in the video below, however, are only a few in contrast to hundreds and thousands of peaceful fans. But watch for yourself what happened after the last relegation of Cologne’s football club.
Even before the game begins, I run right into another first; the playing of the national anthem. I feel out-of-place, standing up, listening to the well-known anthem that’s not mine. I look around, notice in their eyes the connection most of the people in attendance have with the music.
The game begins, the stands are packed, and I am surprised yet again. The game is actually entertaining. Cheshire are supposed to be the underdog here, but they head off to a great start, leading Fairfield Prep by six or seven points. The Cheshire supporters zone, diagonally across the gym, goes wild.
The longer the game goes on, the more surprises come my way. Everything looks so professional. The coaches are dressed in a business like style, the refs seem to wear the same uniforms as the professional ones. And there are so many of them. When we played basketball, our teacher was the coach, wearing a jogging suit.
I am excited. I take a couple of photos. I’m perplexed when I see the scores again. The favored team had managed to turn the tables. They now lead Cheshire by fifteen points or so.
The final surprise of the evening is that Cheshire are able to celebrate a comeback. The game is too close to call almost till the final seconds. The crowd is visibly and audibly disappointed as the final pass glides through the hands of one of their players. The gym transforms from the center of excitement into a place of silent within a split second. The game was over; even I had realized that.
I’ve come here with Joe, who needs to write a story about the game for our class. While waiting for him to finish his interviews, I’ve gotten the chance to observe the family atmosphere once again. The parents gather on the pitch, children are racing all over the gym. I hear chatter from all across the hall, sweet laughter pierces through every few seconds. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, everyone has a brilliant time. Exactly how sports should be enjoyed, completive during the game, but forgotten are all the rivalries afterwards.
I notice how densely the walls of the gym are decorated with banners, telling of past successes. School sports has a complete different value in America. It’s important to people, it means something. Now, Joe’s description of the function of high school sports as a gradual process from town to high school to college to professional teams, makes perfect sense.
Watching this game and being immersed in this atmosphere is why I’m here. I’ve dived into American culture and have learned about a side of the country that had been hidden before. It’s exciting to discover all those differences, smaller and bigger ones. Thanks, Joe!