Saturday, October 21, 2000

At Lakota, the twain meet

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — For 51 weeks out of the year, Lakota's two high schools are united by cooperation, community support and mutual respect.

        But this week is a bit different for Lakota East and Lakota West.

[photo] Tiffany Bell goes to Lakota East; her cousin Lauren Cain goes to Lakota West.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        The two will meet today on the gridiron in their annual football game, which draws more than 10,000 fans to Galbreath Field to see who will get bragging rights in the southeastern Butler County community.

        Unlike the schools' usual cooperative co-existence, this week instead saw students buzzing with anticipation as a competitive fever hit both schools. The symptoms included marked increases in teasing, boasting and other rarely seen pro nouncements of school pride.

        Lakota East and West have been competitors only since 1998 — the two new schools opened in 1997 to handle a booming student population. And under different circumstances the emotions surrounding today's game might divide Lakota students, neighbors and even families.

        But even though it is the premier sporting event for this booming corner of Butler County, so far it remains unmarred by violence, vandalism and vulgar profanities that recently forced Covington Catholic in Northern Kentucky to end its annual football game with nearby Beechwood High School.

        “It's not a heated rivalry like that,” explained Gerry Weisgerber, Lakota West assistant principal and athletic director. “We'd hate to see things get to that point,” he said.

        Instead Lakota school officials stress respect over rancor and civility over coarseness.

        Not easy when dealing with hyped-up teen-agers eager for the year's biggest football game. But Lakota's unusual high school feeder system fosters an antidote for hooliganism — friendship.

        The district dividing line, created in 1997, for attending the two high schools runs north and south through West Chester and Liberty townships. But all ninth-grade students are funneled into the same building — the Lakota Freshman School — for one academic year.

        The resulting friendships and sense of community stick.

        “From the very start of planning for two high schools ... we were aware that even with two high schools, we are all one Lakota and stayed conscious of the need to foster that feeling,” explained Lakota Superintendent Kathy Klink.

        The strategy works, said Lakota West senior Scott Trau, who went through the district's freshman school. “We know these people,” Scott said of Lakota East students. “So there's no room for the rivalry to be unfriendly.”

        Lakota East junior Allison Simpson agreed, saying that though the annual football game “is taken very seriously by some people” it remains only a game to students.

        She said her friends at West will “still be my friends no matter who wins.”

        And no matter who wins today — the Firebirds of Lakota West are favored to end the two-year winning streak of Lakota East's Thunderhawks — Lauren Cain will still be family to cousin Tiffany Bell of Lakota East.

        “We joke and tease around. I made up some signs that said "West is best. East is least' but we don't want it to get out of hand like some other places,” said Lauren. “I don't want it to be like we hate each other.”

        The big game could also cut a temporary loyalty divide through the family of Lakota East's Bob Latessa. He is the school's wrestling coach and a math teacher. A few miles away his wife, Patricia, teaches history at Lakota West.

        But during the big game they set a high-profile example of friendly competition by sitting in the relatively neutral end zone.

        “The kids understand the message we are sending. We support both programs,” said Mr. Latessa. “We keep the competition here under control and it's still fun for everyone.”

        Sue Kiesewetter contributed to this report.


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