Student fans improve behavior

The Merrimack High School student section was getting louder with every second ticking off the clock on the way to another Tomahawks victory.

It was the third straight win for the Merrimack boys basketball team, having defeated Bishop Guertin (47-41), Concord (45-33) and now Exeter (59-51) in a span of one week.

This win over the Blue Hawks seemed more meaningful, almost as if the result of the game itself was a side note in the grand scheme of things. As the decibel level quickly climbed in the section of bleachers behind the far basket, the smile on Ken Johnson’s face also increased.

The words chanted were unmistakable.

“Sorry, Johnson! Sorry, Johnson!” filling the gymnasium. “Sorry, Johnson!”

It was just five days earlier that the Merrimack principal was doing anything but smiling as he reprimanded his student body, banning them from attending the game against Concord and warning of stiffer penalties if certain behaviors weren’t corrected.

“These kids know that I love them and I do place a lot of trust in them,” Johnson said. “That’s what I said to them.

“People will make mistakes. You learn from them and you move on.”

By all accounts, the silence that Jan. 13 night against the Crimson Tide was deafening.

Players felt the change in atmosphere, admittedly coming out flat to start the game. Merrimack boys basketball coach Tim Goodridge was taken aback by the silence as well.

“I’ve been at funeral parlors with more excitement than what we had here that Tuesday night with our crowd,” Goodridge said. “I think the administration did the right thing.

“I would never go against them on something like that. I know what we all really want is the kids in here and supporting us. We really feed off their energy.”

Parents admit that they felt uncomfortable clapping in the quiet gym. There was obviously something missing. An empty section normally full of Tomahawk Crazies rattling the cages of their opponent, was nowhere to be found.

The group of high schoolers – long considered one of the state’s most vocal student cheering sections at home and on the road – had crossed the line of rooting for the home team by using profanity in late-game chants against BG. Thus the one-game penalty.

Students had originally considered protesting the decision by showing up for the meeting against the Crimson Tide. They were told if they showed up to that Concord game, they’d be banned from the next game. There were other potential punishments threatened as well.

In “The Bathroom Newsletter,” released Jan. 12 and hanging in lavatories throughout the high school, prom, Spirit Week and Senior Week were listed as events that could be canceled if behavior at sporting events doesn’t change.

The main point of the memo was for the students to police themselves, keep the atmosphere fun and “Don’t Do Stupid.”

Merrimack Athletic Director Eric Sabean deferred administrative comment on the issue to Johnson, but did add that from the athletic department’s point of view, “It’s a situation that we’ve handled and we’re moving on from.”

Friday against Exeter, those Tomahawk Crazies were as rowdy as ever – minus the inappropriate language. It was something the boys basketball team appreciated.

“That really was a big difference tonight,” senior guard Austin Franzen said of having the student section for the win over Exeter. “We came out so flat last game. It was so quiet in this gym.

“That wasn’t the case tonight. We feed off their emotion. Our student section is the best around, and they energize us.”

Senior forward Dylan Richardson agreed: “We just fed off the crowd and clamped down again in the fourth quarter and pulled out the win.”

For Johnson, the issue has been dealt with and everybody is moving on with a positive outlook.

“We really have moved on,” he said. “I place a lot of trust and faith in these kids. They know that.

“I expect good things.”

Surely a public apology shouted from the bleachers at the tail end of a Friday night boys basketball game was as good as it gets for a high school principal and a basketball program relying on raucous support for the remainder of the season.