OPINION | Fight or flight: has the Trailblazer, Thunderbird rivalry gone too far?

Standing next to a player from Southern Utah University, Tanner Christensen, a junior accounting major from Spokane Valley, Washington prepares to get a rebound. Students prepare and wait with anticipation for the rivalry games against SUU, but has the Trailblazer and Thunderbird rivalry gone too far? Miki Akiyama | Sun News Daily

Share This:

Anticipation, face paint, decorated posters, foam fingers and a whole lot of school spirit. That’s what you can expect to see from students on our game days against our biggest rivals, Southern Utah University

But what you can also expect to experience at these games is booing, an obnoxious arena, disrespectful signs, distasteful comments and a tense environment that takes away from true school spirit and enjoyment of the game.

It’s normal to have a rival school when attending college, but when does a rivalry get to be too much? 

Is it too much when harm and vandalism are done to a university by a fan of the rival team? 

Is it too much when brawls break out on the field between players and coaches leading to suspensions and fines? 

Is it too much when an entire club at Utah Tech dedicates its time and money to putting SUU down while making fun of its mascot, students and university? 

Since the beginning of time, colleges have had rivals. Not only do we have big rivalries like Auburn vs. Alabama, Navy vs. Army and Utah Tech vs. Southern Utah, but we have countless others all across the United States.

Rivalries aren’t all bad and can create camaraderie among students in a healthy, competitive environment. But our rivalry with SUU has gone too far, especially when it comes to sports.

When the Student Organization of Latinos invited SUU’s Latine Student Alliance to our campus to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with a dance, we were able to put aside our rivalry and enjoy the celebration with other students from SUU. 

When Trailblazer football played SUU at home, SUU’s marching band came to our side to cheer on our marching band as they performed, and our band offered the same support and kindness in return. 

But when it comes to sports, it’s a completely different story. The intense and competitive nature we have created when it comes to game day against our rivals is a toxic environment that makes it very hard to enjoy a sports game, especially if we are losing. 

I went to Shadow Ridge High School in Arizona, and although there were other high schools in our district, our biggest rivals were Valley Vista High School. Valley Vista was the equivalent of SUU. Shadow Ridge students hated our rivals with everything in us and would verbally and physically show our hatred at every chance we got.

Well, the Shadow Ridge Cheer Team won the state cheer championships this year. As they were jumping up and down with excitement after being announced as the state champs, Valley Vista stormed the stage to also celebrate Shadow Ridge’s victory with them. This display of sportsmanship proved that rivalries do not have to be toxic, but they can be a healthy opportunity to support other schools and athletes.

If SUU were to win the Western Athletic Conference championship for any of their sports, would we Trailblazers support them in their victory? Would we be happy for them? Would we celebrate with them for all of their hard work and perseverance? 

Or would we be bitter, embarrassed and angry? Would we resent our southern neighbors even more simply because they had better luck and talent in making it to the championships?  

I understand wanting to be loyal to the school you go to. I also understand how being competitive is naturally embedded into our personalities, some more than others. But that does not mean our entire college journey has to be spent hating on our rivals when really, they are students too who are just like us. They are not the enemies. 

If our own university can follow SUU on social media, why can’t we Trailblazers be mature as well? We don’t have to follow them on Instagram. We don’t even have to support them at sports games, but it’s time to be respectful toward our rivals.

This means that collectively booing at the other team and shouting inappropriate comments to the players on the courts and students in the stands are actions we should extinguish from our Trailblazer playbook. 

As Utah Tech prepares for a long-awaited men’s basketball game against the Thunderbirds Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Burns Arena, let’s not only focus on the scoreboard but also our sportsmanship and respect toward SUU. 

As we practice better sportsmanship, we will create a more positive environment for our players, students and fans. We will be able to set an example and be known for our Trailblazer spirit that supports other schools rather than tearing them down.

No matter the outcome of the game, let our rivalry stay in the stands as we blaze a trail of respect for our rivals, both on and off the court.