The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East

Eastside

The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East

Eastside

The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East

Eastside

East-West sports rivalry evolves through time

At+all+levels%2C+the+East+vs.+West+sports+rivalry+has+changed+dramatically+over+time.
Ella Goodstadt
At all levels, the East vs. West sports rivalry has changed dramatically over time.

Shai Gilmore (‘24) circles the games red on the calendar. For Gilmore, these games are at the crux of what he sees as the East football team’s main goal: beat West. He sees it as a dominance factor. Who is the face of the town? The face of football?

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For Mr. Mike Melograna (‘01), he wanted to wear red. He was raised to beat West and held his neighbors and friends to that same standard.

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For Gilmore and Melograna, despite years of separation, they have a shared consensus. Their voices and experiences are becoming a minority: the Cherry Hill High School East vs. Cherry Hill High School West athletic rivalry is evolving, and in some ways fading.

The United States is in the midst of immense division whether it is politically or ideologically. Cherry Hill is not an exception. Rooting in geographical divides, East versus West has made its way into the community’s violent discourse comparing the two regions. In this context, what is the role of a sports rivalry in an already divided community? Will increasing spirit around athletics have the unintended consequence of perpetuating unity on the smaller school scale, but extreme division on the grander community scale?

Some, like Gilmore and Melograna, say no, actually the opposite.

From the athlete to the administration’s stance, people at all different levels have left their marks on the evolution of the East v. West rivalry. By understanding the roots of the changes, one can come to a clearer understanding for themselves of the adequate role of the rivalry today.

The athlete: changes in athletic priorities

The rivalry, and the focus on high school athletics itself, has diminished according to Melograna, an East alumni and past student athlete in soccer, basketball, and baseball. He has taught in the Cherry Hill school district for 17 years including current roles as East Boys Varsity Soccer coach and being a Beck Health / PE teacher.

Many high school students participate more in club sports which involve more travel and outside-of-school commitments, leading to less emphasis on in-school athletics. Yet for athletes like Melograna in the past, most only focused on their high school sports career.

“There was a lot less travel in club sports going on when we were kids– late 90s and early 2000s. Your high school career was it. That was the thing and it meant so much more to us. Now there is always another tournament. There is always another showcase to go to… There is always another game so the importance put into high school sports isn’t quite there,” said Melograna.

Dylan Hammer (‘25), a member of the Junior Varsity Boys Tennis Team, feels that the East vs. West sports rivalry is not greatly important to the tennis team, but recognizes its importance to other sports at East.

“I don’t think it’s a huge deal for the team to win. We are mainly focused on our record and winning in the postseason,” said Hammer.

Even Mr. Charles Davis (‘95), a student-athlete in football and baseball and now Director of Student Activities at East, said that he wanted to do well against West, but never circled the date.

“We played West on the calendar… We look forward to those games. But you know, it was just another game in a lot of things,” said Davis.

Gilmore, a punter for the East Football team, has a different experience.

“Even if you have a terrible losing record, if you beat West, you win,” Gilmore said.

It’s important to understand that the individual experience of an athlete, both on their values and the sport they play, provides a more nuanced perspective on how generally important the rivalry is. It is clear there are voices and advocates on the entire spectrum of experience and perspective amidst the trends of the larger groups.

“It’s difficult to say, because there are people at East who don’t think a second about West. There are people at West who don’t think a second about East. And then, there are people who look for comparison and everything,” said Davis.

The games: shifts in the major cross-town community games

Davis explained how shifts in the rivalry can be attributed to changes surrounding the major rivalry games for the teams, like the East vs. West annual football game. It used to be a part of Thanksgiving and spirit week, not just as a mark of a rivalry, but also a community event to come together to see who would win the “boot.”

“It just doesn’t have the marquee limelight, I think as much as it previously had,” he said. “Everybody who was an alumni went to the East West football game, because that was your catching up. It’s kind of like your first reunion. We don’t really have that as much anymore. Now it’s in the middle of October. It’s still a big game… But I don’t think it’s at the level that it was,” said Davis.

Melograna echoed a similar sentiment.

“There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people there and I went there all the way through my high school experience,” Melograna said.

Despite this, the East vs. West Soccer Night has also been added, a competition over the “crystal ball.” This event, where the soccer teams from East and West compete, now challenges the football game as the biggest game in the rivalry. This event continues to serve to bring the community together and expose them to community athletics, like the football game.

The team: team priorities and changes in competitiveness

For in-school athletics, there is an emphasis on winning in the postseason, which may contribute to ideas that a smaller role for the rivalry should exist.

“You want to win a sectional title. You want to win a state title. You want to win a coaches tournament,” said Melograna.

Even the playoff rival matches, apart from the cross-town community football and soccer events, have changed. At one point, both East and West were in both the same conference and the same division. However now, for many sports, while both East and West are in the Olympic Conference, East plays Group 4 and West plays Group 3 which Melograna explains has led to postseason matchups that look, sound and feel different. This means that for many sports East and West never compete against each other in the playoffs.

“That does not take anything away from the success our counterparts at West have had in the postseason… But it does impact what people see. People see wins and losses… There are other things to equations, and that has changed,” said Melograna.

During the regular season matches, however, the competition dynamic has undeniably changed. During Melograna’s time as an East soccer, basketball, and baseball athlete, he remembers only losing to West once or twice total in the four years. But in Melograna’s experience, for football, for the first 40 years, East mainly dominated, while during the last 15 years, West has taken over.

The school: diminishing school spirit

Heads down, earbuds in, hoods on. This is how many perceive high schoolers today, and there is some truth in it.

Changes in the rivalry, particularly diminishment, can also be attributed to a larger lack of student body pride and growth of self-isolation. In the Harvard Political Review, Felix Bulwa explains how school spirit is tied to athletic attendance, where at places like East, engagement is a major component to the growth of the rivalry.

There have been pushes to help bring back the rivalry, and even more generally athletic engagement, such as through groups like the Countrymen. Gilmore explains that the main goal is to not antagonize West, it is mainly to just get as many people as possible to the games.

“I think it gets everybody involved and it’s a very local event so not only are kids from East and West going, but kids from Carusi and Beck and Rosa also hear about this sort of thing,” said Gilmore.

Yet, where is the line between magnifying school spirit and creating a toxic sports culture? In an Eastside story written in March 2022, Ziva Davis recalled experiences of East fans shouting “baldy” to a player on another team with a receding hairline and “baby daddy” when another player on a team had a child.

Melograna recalls a time when these two forces were not mutually exclusive, both could exist simultaneously: a strong school spirit and positive environment.

“I would love for you guys to be able to step into a time machine and come to spirit week in 1998 and feel what it was like when everybody was here. It did not matter where you came from, what you looked like, what you believed in, how much money your parents made. Everybody was an East cougar. Everybody cared about each other. Everyone knew each other’s first and last name whether you had a class with them or not. We cared about East and we cared about our community in that way,” said Melograna.

Jason Lantz, a teacher in Atlantic City, commented on a video from 11 years ago of a Varsity Boys Basketball game between Cherry Hill High School East and Atlantic City reiterating these ideas and showing the inclusivity extended beyond the “in-group” of the school community.

“Glad we came to that environment and got a win! Fans gave us respect at the end of the game and even came to the championship game and cheered for us! Respect!” he said.

What is described as a diminishment of school spirit, may also be characteristic of a lack of consistency in school spirit.

“I wanted East to be the best at everything because that’s how it always was and always would be. I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. I think the student support is excellent. But I don’t think it’s as consistent as it once was,” said Melograna.

The community: discourse effects on rivalry

Tensions surrounding the rivalry have been long-standing, a continuity in the midst of the changes, but the ways in which they manifest themselves have shifted. For example, because of social media and access to information, people know coaches now.

“People in the community know who the coaches are more now than they did before,” said Melograna. “I’m just a teacher and a coach. I think people feel, and this is across everything right now, they can say whatever they want and it’s okay. And it’s not, and it’s not right for anybody.”

While there is the comfort of posting anonymously and being disconnected from one’s identity, fractured discourse, especially surrounding polarizing topics, has spilled over in in-person settings as well. From government offices to board of education meetings, communities around the world are grappling with a more divisive atmosphere than ever, which also extends to athletics. Many of these discussions occur on online platforms like the community Facebook groups, where dialogue mainly exists between Cherry Hill students’ parents or adult members.

“For parents to get involved, I think it is a little bit childish and cowardish,” said Gilmore.

People have more of a voice now, and community discourse surrounding the rivalry, Melograna explains, has shifted more negatively than positively. While the coaches do receive support from the administration, more could help circumvent these issues.

“The negatives are walking into Wawa the morning after the East West game this year and having a parent I do not know get on me a little bit for losing to West. It was not an East parent. I was wearing nothing East. But she was very adamant in saying, “Oh, you lost again, you lost again, West always wins,” said Melograna. “Those interactions should never happen, people need to let it go at the door, so to speak.”

The administration: shifting administrative stance in policy and initiative to mend community division

Starting in the 1999-2000 school year, the Cherry Hill Board of Education began open enrollment for the two high schools in the district under Policy 5117. This allowed for students to select what high school they went to instead of going to a school based on where they lived. The policy changed the dynamic of the athletes and their connection to the school district they were a part of.

“I know of athletes that were tremendous at Beck or at Rosa that lived in the area that typically go to East and decided to go West or decided to go to Catholic school. That has definitely impacted our athletic programs, there is no doubt,” said Melograna.

Additionally, one of the largest causes for the shift in the East vs. West sports rivalry dynamic was the introduction of the district athletic director. Mr. Michael Beirao, the District Director of Athletics, did not come to Cherry Hill Schools. From a neutral stance, he is able to be in the middle and find support for both high schools.

“Each school had their own athletic director, which means they’re looking out for the interests of their own school at the expense of everything else with the district that athletic director, he can kind of see the bigger picture between the two schools,” said Davis.

This represents a larger concerted effort made by the district to unify disparate parts of East and West, with positions like the directors and tagline slogans such as WE. There has been a push to bring people together; it is evident that this has made its influence on athletics, and while well-intentioned, some have mixed responses about the messaging it sends.

“I understand the WE as the community,” Melograna said, reiterating his firm commitment to it around Cherry Hill. However, for athletics, he talked about the fundamental goal of the game is to win. “You don’t play to tie,” he added, especially for a school’s cross town rival.

Conclusions

For Gilmore, he describes it as electric. These are the moments that are most important, this is what he put in the work for.

“You put in as much work, as much time as you really can to have a great outcome at the end. To beat West or even the other side, for West to beat us. The intensity is just so high,” said Gilmore. “Over my four years, the main focus for me and the team is to not only make the playoffs, but to just beat West in any way possible.”

Yet, despite being a staunch proponent of the rivalry, he recognizes it is changing.

“Families and parents have played in this game, older brothers and sisters — they started by stopping playing it over Thanksgiving break, just don’t get rid of the rivalry,” said Gilmore, specifically referring to the football game.

The rivalry, even in its name, insinuates division and a fractured community– a battleground for personal attacks and stereotyping. But it is actually the opposite that people like Gilmore see it as a vision of.

“I just think it’s important for this town to have something to come together as one neighborhood and one town,” said Gilmore.

However paradoxically, it may be a rivalry that can bring a community together.

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About the Contributors
Gia Gupta, Eastside Editor-In-Chief
Gia, a Print Editor-In-Chief, loves stargazing, asking questions to strangers, and wandering in bookstores. Some of her favorite things include The Marginalian, handwritten letters, and interactive art museums. But in the end, like she wrote in that one Eastside article, she simply is.
Ella Goodstadt, Eastside Online Editor-In-Chief
Ella Goodstadt is one of the Online Editors-in-Chief for Eastside, and she is a senior at East. When she’s not working on Eastside, Ella loves to hang out with her friends, play tennis, watch her favorite shows, and read! Ella is so excited for an amazing year with Eastside!!

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