Being in a sports team throughout high school, there are many interesting rituals that we practice. The following comes from an interview with a fellow softball teammate as she recounts her favorite small ritual that we practiced in our team.
The following is a story told to me by the interviewee.
“In our softball team, everyone has a nickname. And we would put the nickname between the first name and the last name. So First Name–Nickname—Lastname. There was Riley “Ryebread’ Crocker. Maria “No-Pass” Boone. Holly “Freshie” Cohen. Cindy “Splits” Keogh. My nickname was Freshie because I was the only freshman that year. Not the most interesting one and it stuck all the way till I was a senior. Which is weird to be called freshie as a senior. A lot of the nicknames were either endearing ones that were a play on someone’s name. I remember yours was Val “Pal” Tan. And then a lot of them were like really significant things that someone did on the field. Like with Cindy did the spilt to catch the ball, and so she became Cindy “Spilts” Keogh.
Sports teams build a sense of community very quickly. Getting close to your teammates through practice, going through wins and losses together, building emotional bonds. While some sport team rituals build on the concept of superstition to ensure winning a game, the act of nicknames in this softball team appears to come instead from the attempt to build an even greater sense of community amongst the teammates. This team ritual allows the teammates to bond quickly, nicknames are often reserved for close friends. However, even if two teammates are not that close to each other and would not have otherwise called each other by nicknames, the in-built nickname from being on the sports team forces the two to feel like they have a bond between them.
My informant is a current student who has shared with me his experiences of childhood folklore and traditions that he grew up with. In a series of interviews he has shared with me his knowledge.
“So in high school I did a couple of sports, but the one I stuck with was track and field. There’s this tradition every year that at the end of the season, we celebrate this kind of ‘senior night’. Now it wasn’t just the track and field team, it was something that all the sports teams would do for their graduating seniors.
We would have underclassmen make posters and cutouts, while each junior was assigned a senior they would make a speech for.
For me it happened my last home meet, which is the last ‘game’ at the seniors’ home turf. So before the meet began, we would be lined up in a row, usually with our parents, and called one by one for recognition and a picture.
A junior would give a speech to us and then we would receive a small gift, usually a basket of things like candy and snacks. Afterwards our coaches would say a few words, and then the meet would begin.
After the meet ended, we went out to a restaurant to celebrate and it is a bittersweet moment. It’s a simple tradition but I always looked forward to it when I was an underclassmen and I think it’s cool that it’s a small way to send a token of appreciation for the seniors. A kind of final goodbye.”
Having had my own senior night, I understood very well what he was sharing with me. I love how it’s a tradition that has remained the core of high school sports for a very long time. It’s almost an initiation of seniors into the ‘real’ world before they part off and I think it’s a wonderful way to honor their hard work over the past year or years. Although I did not do track and field, I see similarities between my senior night and his and how each sport has developed its’ own culture and way of performing senior night. Overall, I think it’s a very important custom that is practiced in high school sports as a way to say goodbye and appreciate the seniors and the traditions that came before them.
Informant: Whenever it was someone’s birthday on the team they would have to play “Bottom’s Up.” They would have to stand in the goal, bend over, and grab the net with their head down and closed eyes. Their butts would be in the air facing the field, and everyone else on the team got to take a shot and hit you in the butt. If you were hit, you were hit. If you flinched then the person got to shoot again. It was a fun thing we always ended practice with whenever there was a birthday. I just hated when it was my birthday, haha.
The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, who is currently a senior at USC studying Health and Human Sciences whose family is living in a town four hours outside of Denver, Colorado. Coming from a military family, the informant has lived in various areas, the most memorable for him was New Orleans. The informant is half Korean and half Caucasian, and is a sports fanatic having played soccer for most of his life. The informant is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to several festivals a year, originally beginning to attend in his senior year of high school.
During our interview I brought up how different games can be considered as folklore. After I described how games fit these categories he remembered a game him and his high school soccer team used to play which was taught to them by their coach.
This folk game is a great combination of a game, as well as a folk ritual as it occurs on every birthday almost serving as an initiation. This shared experience that everyone on the team had to go through is something they could all relate to and participate in, fostering a sense of unity amongst teammates as well. There is also a great sense of humor about this game where everyone gets a chance to honor the person whose birthday in a more rabble-rousing way.