Oak Park and River Forest High School students were banned from attending the IHSA Class 3A soccer sectional final game on Oct. 30 against Evanston Township High School at New Trier High School, according to a message sent last week to families by OPRF Athletic Director Nicole Ebsen and obtained by Wednesday Journal.
Ebsen wrote that the decision came after OPRF school officials became aware of a “pattern of unsportsmanlike behavior” and “extreme disrespect” displayed by their students at the conclusion of the sectional semifinal game played Oct. 26 against New Trier in Winnetka.
The Huskies won the sectional against Evanston and moved on to the super sectional on Nov. 2 after the Journal’s print deadline.
“Unfortunately, after discussion with the host school and the Illinois High School Association, we will not be allowing Oak Park and River Forest High School students to attend the game,” Ebsen wrote in the email. “We were notified that any such further behavior would come with severe consequences to our team, including the possibility of the IHSA removing the Huskies from the remainder of the soccer post season. Our student athletes have worked very hard, and it is important that we allow them the opportunity to continue their journey through the post season without interruption.”
Lynda Parker, OPRF assistant superintendent and principal, told Wednesday Journal Monday that the high school has “excited fans” who have attended various sporting events this past season, including the Oct. 26 soccer match, and at times “have had choice words” for the opposing team. Those words, she said, could include OPRF fans’ reactions over plays or referee calls.
On Twitter, a livestream video of the Oct. 26 game posted by an account called NT Boys Soccer Fans showed a group of OPRF students rushing onto the field after the final whistle, with a few running over to the New Trier fan section where one fan waved an OPRF flag while others appeared to taunt and direct gestures to New Trier fans in the stands. Parker said she received reports that some OPRF fans exchanged words with New Trier fans.
“It was very discouraging, and so we felt that there needed to be a response from that,” she said, adding that the Oct. 26 incident was not an isolated one.
Parker confirmed that student behavior was an issue during OPRF’s IHSA regional final win over Niles West on Oct. 21 and briefly explained OPRF fans, adults and students alike, exchanged words with Niles West fans. One person who attended the game said the referee had to stop play twice to have Jason Fried, head coach of the Huskies boys soccer team, “address/reprimand the student fans.”
Attempts to reach a spokesperson at New Trier High School for comment were unsuccessful. New Trier Athletic Director Augie Fontanetta, who also serves on the IHSA Board of Directors, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Parker said the ban is not permanent, and she and other school officials are actively “monitoring the situation.” Students were allowed to attend the super-sectionals game on Nov. 2 at Barrington High School against Fremd High School, but they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who will be “responsible for them throughout the entire game,” she said.
As Parker reflected on these recent events, she hopes families will focus on “what’s happening at sporting events in a larger context.” Parker said she and many other school administrators outside OPRF are experiencing various issues with student behavior, and in this day and age, it’s not uncommon to see adults display “unbecoming” conduct.
With that, Parker is calling for parents and guardians to help.
“I would ask parents to just be mindful of the fact that this needs to be done whether we believe it’s our child or not,” she said. “All our students could benefit from the reinforcement – that there’s a way that we act when we go to sporting events, and we want to be good fans, and we want to be good spectators, so that everybody wins in the end. And there’s a way to enjoy these events without antagonizing other attendees.”
Melvin Tate contributed to this report.