All is Quiet on the Free Throw Line

By Annie Langan ’18

Photo by Dana Vancisin

The scoreboard blinked an agonizing 52-52 with 52 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. Thacher had been winning the game by a ten point margin the first three quarters but in the final minutes Malibu caught up and beat Thacher in a devastating 53-56 loss. How did this happen? One partial explanation is the distraction of the crowds. The opposing team’s fans as well as some lingering Nordhoff soccer players, who were not entirely happy after their first loss to Thacher in a number of years, would stomp and make as much noise possible to faze the Thacher player preparing to take a free throw. This fan behavior is typical of any highly competitive atmosphere from high school to professional teams, and it seems to be successful.  Thacher went 0 for 10 in free throws at one point in the 3rd quarter and had a dismal free throw percentage the rest of the game. And yet Thacher fans remained respectfully silent as the opposing team made their free throws even at critical moments in the last 30 seconds of a nail bitingly close game. Even with that unfortunate loss, the game was still an electrifying experience. Head Coach Mr. Carney explained the special Thacher fanbase.

Voit gym and the Thacher student body—and, really, the community as a whole—provide the best high school basketball environment that I have ever seen. It’s not even close. The positive energy and great sportsmanship demonstrated by our fans are equally inspirational and astounding, and I have had several coaches tell me that they love playing at Thacher for these very reasons. The team, Coach Okpalugo, and I cherish the opportunity to play in front of such a loyal fan base.

What compels Thacher fans to act with deferential behavior no matter what the situation or costs? One guiding principle for Thacher athletics is the Second Scoreboard. While often dismissed as a “participation trophy” for losers, the second scoreboard plays an important role in the conduct of Thacher athletes and fans. Mr. Fagan sent this statement as part of longer message via email regarding a baseball game last spring effectively summing up this idea:

Sometimes the first scoreboard doesn’t reflect the victories of the second scoreboard and today was the case. This team has worked hard all season and to see the noticeable growth and improvement is commendable and impressive. Congrats to these boys for fighting against Fillmore (the defending league champions) this week and never giving in.  Great work!

Just as the in-depth comments on our report cards attempt to speak for what is not necessarily represented by a letter grade, the second scoreboard is a chance to evaluate our performance beyond what the scoreboard or season record reads. The second scoreboard is part of what embodies a Thacher student: a sense of pride in doing your best work and a moral obligation to take the high road. Following a season ending loss in playoffs last year, then assistant Coach Aaron Snyder (currently on sabbatical in Spain) issued this statement part of a longer email to the school:

With less than a minute left, when they extended their lead to 8, the other team’s fans exploded in noise and started to gloat. Boy, were they rude. I looked up and saw how dismayed and upset many of you were by their behavior.

And then, in that moment just after it had become clear that we were going to lose the game, just after the other team’s fans had mocked Thacher for going down in defeat, I heard your full-voiced chant, pulsing through the building with ten times the force of their taunts.

“We Are Thacher… Mighty, Mighty Thacher.”

What a display of grace and class. What a statement of love and support for your peers on the Thacher bench.

One student pointed out that the vast majority of Thacher students do not have to rely on sports as a pathway to college, a privilege some opposing players do not have. Thacher can afford to potentially lose a game to retain class. And that is not to say that the only reason Thacher loses games is because the fans refuse to engage in taunting behavior, some teams are genuinely superior to Thacher. But Thacher almost always manages to win or lose with class following the pillars of the school’s honor code: honor, fairness, kindness, and truth and for that we are Thacher, mighty, mighty Thacher.  

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