Things I’ve Learned – School Pride

One of the things I’ve learned in my life has been a lesson about the power of school pride.

Let’s start at the beginning, as I’ve been told by professors, teachers, and books about writing (and books about writers writing–and those are the worst), the beginning is a great place to start.

When I was in high school, in the poor excuse for civilization that is Smyrna, Tennessee, I wrote what I can only describe as Aaron’s Guide to Misanthropy. If you prefer, it was like the Airing of Grievances in Festivus put to book form. I figured that everyone around me could be pegged into cliques, and, further, I received a good amount of Lewis Black-style rage from each of these cliques. Instead of talking out my problems with people, or, as the more mentally unbalanced members of our society do, bring a gun into the equation, I decided I’d write it all down. Blogging, kind of, but with a guaranteed audience and the satisfaction of knowing that Google wouldn’t index it for all eternity. So I wrote it all down. All the things that went through my head when I saw the JROTC kids walk through the halls in uniform with rifles (fascists, deargodtheyregonnakillusall), or the American chavs walk through the halls with jeans so baggy they were going to trip over them, all of that went in the, er, manifesto.

And then, because hey, why not, I printed out a few copies and left them around some rooms. Nothing ever came of it aside from a few people knowing who wrote it and one teacher saying it was hilarious. But there’s one reason I bring it up now: school pride.

It’s especially disturbing in high school, as you realize that, more and more as time moves on, high school isn’t the bridge from adolescence to adulthood that it once was. That’s college. So, reflecting on that (and the in-high school version of that little epiphany might be “All these people are idiots”), the idea of shouting “Go ____!” and seemingly advocating the destruction of another body of learning because of an upcoming football game renders itself absurd.

When I was in high school, though, it was a big deal. The only reason it was a big deal was because I didn’t know what I’d be getting into at The University of Tennessee.

A typical UT home game

That right there? All those people sitting in the godforsaken sun and sweating out enough alcohol to keep China drunk for a week? All of those people would be outside my dorm room every Saturday morning, shouting, rambunctious, drunk, punchy, ready to pounce on another team’s fan. They’d be right there, starting from about seven in the morning, when I wanted nothing more than to sleep off a hangover from the night before.

That’s about when I really started hating school pride. You see, when someone says they’ve got a lot of school pride, it’s never because of the school. It’s about the football, baseball, basketball, lacross, equestrian, archery, whatever program. No sane person would be at a bar in their college town, see a person wearing a sweater from another school and say, “You think your professor of Medieval Studies is the best? Fuck you! Dr. Carniello kicks ass! I SAID IT’S GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL!”

NOTE: Dr. Carniello, if memory serves, did, and hopefully still does, kick copious amounts of ass.

This is all misdirected team pride. It should be going to pro sports, but instead, by virtue of proximity to a stadium, it gets heaved on to a college program and, thus, a generation of sweaty, veiny-necked, cornfed football fans is born. They live and breathe on stats for their chosen team and will be damned if you say their program isn’t the most well-run out of the entire NCAA.

Really, the Southern Baptist Convention wishes it could get this sort of devotion out of its… constituents(?).

The University of Tennessee happens to be one of those schools, like most in the SEC, that lives and dies because of football. A certain point of view states that were it not for the football program, the University, and, by extension, Knoxville would have collapsed into a Mecca for moonshiners long ago. On game days, the campus is flooded by a tide of that heinous shade of orange; parking for people who are trying to get some work done at the library is nonexistent; and you’ve got people from all over the country getting wasted and puking everywhere. Some call that a magnificent feat of an extended community of football fans, but I call it a bunch of overzealous people who enjoy having a reason to shout into the air.

Now, in the interests of being completely honest, for my freshman year I was pretty heavily into these game day activities. But, mind you, the reason for my involvement was because I had joined Alpha Epsilon Pi (Jew House), and we used game days as an excuse to get obliterated and leer/shout horrible things at sorority girls.

Me, circa 2005/06

Of course, we did that throughout the week and into spring term, but it was more acceptable in football season.

Then, after we lost our house because UT wanted to reclaim the land to build a dorm there, I sort of went a separate way. Mainly, my way consisted of a lot of coffee at Starbucks, writing horrible stories, and going to an Egyptian restaurant on the other side of town. The side effect of all of this was that I stopped caring about UT football. I didn’t care much before, but I tailgated and occasionally went to games for about ten minutes.

And now, four, five years after the fact, I’ve come to regard people who talk at unnecessarily loud volumes about college football in the same vein as I do fruit flies. (Or people on the bus who seem to think it’s acceptable to talk to the driver the entire way home, thus making the driver keep repeating, “Ma’am, please sit down and stop taking pictures of me.”)

It’s not that I disliked my experience at UT, but I recognize that I probably could have gotten into a better school if I’d given a damn. (I didn’t. I submitted an application to Tennessee, and one to Texas. Texas never received my application, so, frankly, I was lucky to go to college.) UT’s a decent university with a good history and a good academic reputation, but it’s painfully obvious that a significant portion of the student body goes there to watch football.

"What? Go to English class? That's for nerds. Did you know that Johnson passed for 460 yards last season? And Smith ran for 800?"

And perhaps the thing that irks me the most about all of this–and the reason I’m writing this entry–is that this school pride really, really makes people defensive about stupid shit, both in-college and as alumni.

Take, for example, UT’s color. It’s apparently a trademarked shade of the color orange, and, oh boy, what a shade it is. I’m willing to bet that if the University hadn’t chosen it as its color, then a person who covered their car in it instead of, say, white, would be mocked and derided for choosing something so eye-gougingly disgusting. And yet–yet–because this is the color of my alma mater, I can’t say that around fellow alumni without at least one person saying something along the lines of “I think it’s beautiful.” Come on, pal, you and I both see in the same color spectrum. No you don’t. No one looks good in it (anyone who wears it resembles a convict) and no one would otherwise paint their car in it.

Maybe this is just me being an anti-joiner, or my liberal tendencies which make me blind to the joy of football while deferring to the utterly mad pastime of reading novels. (And make me read the New York Times, which is, apparently, irrelevant.) Maybe I’m being cynical about the community brought together by the sport for no reason other than I was never picked to play in anything during gym class. (Was I? NOTE: Check on this.) But, frankly, I doubt it.

The mentality that comes with having enough school pride to drape yourself in convict gear is also applicable to professional sports, and, as I found out this summer during the England-US match, when enough fans get together and get drunk enough, and stumble upon fans of the other team, very bad things might happen. And yeah, I know that those people are knobs, assholes, and douchebags, and they’re in no way the mainstream of sports fans, but after spending four years hanging around crowds of 70,000 or more people who want nothing more to shout “Fuck Steve Spurrier!” I’m just a little wary of sports.

And a final note: There wasn’t a lot of what we Americans would call “school pride” at Kent. Very few people I met were very in-your-face about it, and those that were happened to be the sorts of English people who got annoyed when you pointed out that, by virtue of history, they were partly French. I’m not entirely sure why this is. Maybe it’s because a lot of the people I knew were postgrads, and we, in our ivory tower at Woolf College, were well aware that Kent was a borderline party school/becoming an extension of Essex. But I’d be more inclined to think that it’s because the university didn’t have a massive institution like UT football that drew students to attend. I’d say about 60% of the people I talked to chose the university because it was either cheap or had a good program. (The remaining forty percent either had it as a second choice or said something along the lines of, “Is this what Americans talk about on dates?”)

So, what have I learned from thinking about this for way too long? Essentially that when you stick a bunch of UT fans in a room, don’t dare knock the alma mater, even if you went there and if you did better at the university than they did. They’ll think you’re a Vandy fan, and that’s when things get nasty.

4 thoughts on “Things I’ve Learned – School Pride

  1. Your statement ‘They’re partly French’ shows historical misunderstanding: we are in factly partly Norman, the only invading people the french managed to keep out of their country. Ironic, no?

  2. From what I’ve studied, they spoke a version of French, introduced a lot of French culture into the British Islands, and, you could say, tied the British Isles, or at least England, to the Continent instead of Scandinavia. From everything I’ve read, and the conclusions I’ve come to from reading it all, that makes them French, albeit French of Norse descent instead of French from Germanic descent.

  3. Pingback: Moving to The South « Aaron C Simon
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