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Benton Community student honor America and the flag together, before a recent game at VS.

Athletes and spectators competitive sports learn many things: Skills. Teamwork. Discipline. Sportsmanship – how to play, win and lose graciously.

We learn these things from coaches, teammates, professionals we admire, and – at times – from the other team.

At a recent basketball game in Vinton, I saw an inspiring performance from on of our rivals that merits mention and a sincere compliment.

The Vikings were playing Benton Community; as they usually do, a group of Benton students filled several rows under the main scoreboard, behind the Bobcat bench.

A group of about 20 filled three rows of one section, while more students came later and sat across the aisle.

They were loud from the beginning, chatting to the Viking players as they warmed up at the basket in front of the Benton student section. They even began counting the number of missed practice shots the Viking took during warm-ups, shouting the numbers in succession.

They were consistently loud and probably got under the skin, on the nerves and into the heads of the Viking players or fans at times – which, of course, is in part the point. But they were good sports about it; their language was clean; the worst I heard from that corner was from one male who sat apart from the main group and seemed to have a vocabulary of two words, “you” and “suck.”

But they supported their team and razzed ours in appropriate language, throughout the whole game. They celebrated in synch with the Bobcat bench over every successful free throw. They even sang a few numbers, including “The Alphabet Song,” while Viking players attempted free throws.

I admired their energy and consistency. Although I am sure they had fun, it is hard work keeping up that kind of energy and volume.

Their most impressive moment, however, began in silence.

As the audience hushed for the singing of the National Anthem, the group of 20 Bobcat fans stood and faced the flag together. Each put his or her right hand over his heart and his left hand on the shoulder of his classmate.

Then, when the song ended, those students led the audience in a chant of “USA! USA! USA!”

Benton Community and Vinton-Shellsburg athletes and fans have been competing against each other, razzing each other – and if the stories I hear are true, there was a time a generation ago when pranks against the other school’s symbols was an occasional occurrence.

And of course, throughout the history of this rivalry, there have been memorable victories and defeats for both schools. The Vikings routed Benton on opening day of football season, in the first game on the Bobcats’ new turf. The Bobcats gave the Vikings two of their toughest games in last year’s undefeated basketball season, and defeated them twice this year. A few years ago, as a basketball game came to an end with the Vikings on top, the Benton student body chanted, "Let's play football!!!" as a reminder who had won on the gridiron a few months earlier.

The same energy and rivalry has continued in every sport: Baseball, wrestling, track and the rest. And last fall, a former Bobcat football player earned his first win as a high school coach over his old team as he led the Viking freshman to victory.

This intense and intensely loud rivalry will continue, I am sure, in perpetuity, as it should. Rivalries can help make us try harder to do better. And yes, at times, people on both sides have failed to remember their sportsmanship.

But for a few inspiring moments that recent Friday, the students dressed in blue and gold and those in black and gold were all on the same side.

And those of us on the other side saw something admirable in our opponents, and their fans.

It's not new to see Benton or Vinton-Shellsburg students displaying patriotism. I have been to incredible services where the student bodies of each school honors local veterans. But it was especially inspiring to see and hear that impromptu display of American pride.

Competition. Sportsmanship. Patriotism.

That’s what all sports, especially high school sports should represent, every night, every game.

And on that Friday in Vinton, that's exactly what we saw.



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Comments (4)

This was a refreshing read! Over the years I've watched so many Americans that should know better be disrespectful in these circumstances. I only wish it had been our school that had been the role models.
By: Christine Brewer on February 17th 12:11pm
Thank you for the awesome article regarding the Benton Community Bobcat fans! I'm sad to report that our student body, my son included, have been silenced by our school administration due to alleged complaints from a handful of parents who claim our kids are not showing good sportsmanship. Who DOESN'T yell at the opposing team when they are shooting a free throw? All I know is that these kids could be out doing a lot worse, but they are choosing to spend their time supporting their team showing some true school spirit. For that I am very proud of my son!
By: Erika Rabe on February 17th 2:26pm
It makes me very proud of our young people that they show this respect for our country, flag, and all the Veterans that have fought to give us our freedom. It also makes me proud that our schools are allowing Veterans groups to come to the schools to teach these young people how to respect country and flag. Let the spirit to show patriotism never die! Way to go Benton Community Student Body!!!. On behalf of the VFW Auxiliary Post 8884 of Vinton Kudos to you all, both teams, fans, and student body!
Margaret Krug
By: Margaret Krug on February 17th 5:41pm
I enjoyed your article on a lesson in sportsmanship and patriotism. How ironic is it that these young people you complimented have been silenced by the school administration for their enthusiasm and loyalty to the Bobcat players and their country. As a grandmother of one of these students, I am very proud of each and every one of them. Our generation sang 'bye, bye Miss American Pie' and cried the day the 'music died'. This generation will sing 'bye, bye Miss American Pie' and will remember the day 'the cheering died'. How sad for the team, for the fans and for the school.
By: Sue Peterson on February 18th 9:04pm

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