The stench of blood and piss lingers in the air, as thick as a frozen block of tomato soup. The ground is sticky with bodily juices and kombucha. Mounds of teeth and clots of hair pollute the earth, mixing with the piles of vomit containing chunks of Top Dog and poorly chewed bits of Sliver pizza. Is this a war zone I am describing? The aftermath of a nuclear bomb? No. This is the hallowed and highly protected Senior Steps on the Berkeley High School (BHS) campus after a particularly intense Rally Day battle between the classes of 2020 and 2021. What I am describing is the intensity of inter-class rivalry at BHS, one that in many ways defines our school spirit, and one that is in peril this year. For those worried about safety and sanitary conditions at BHS, the drama that actually occurred that Rally Day was that the fire alarm got pulled, sending the seniors off of the Senior Steps and to the football field, allowing the juniors to rush in and conquer them.
At our school, each grade has their own special classification. Underlings, Vanillas, Challengers and, at the top of the food chain: Seniors. WE ARE ALL BUT MORTALS UNDER THEIR GODLY FEET. Many people (in particular teachers) seem to see these dynamics and rivalries as unhealthy for the school. They may be concerned that it breeds an unhealthy culture, excludes and terrorizes freshmen, and actually hurts the school’s unity. While inter-grade rivalries can and have caused problems, I strongly believe they are overall a positive for our school and traditions that must be saved are in danger due to distance learning. Rally Day is exciting and fun. Juniors and seniors scream out their graduation years and order others to bow down to them, students paint their chests with their class numbers, the breezeway is stuffed with students jumping on the windowsills and yelling out their grade (“SENIORS, SENIORS”). Some suggest that days like this invite serious transgressions like injuries and sexual harassment, but I believe these stem from teenage stupidity and toxic masculinity, which exist with or without promotion of class rivalries.
Unity can feel impossible to achieve at a school as large as BHS, and rivalries can make a big difference! Without them, you may have nothing in common with another member of your 800-person class, but with these rivalries there is a shared experience and some common ground. Let’s imagine a situation involving me and a fellow junior named “Mario Bracatoni.” Without class rivalries it might go like this. ADAM: “Hey, my name’s Adam, what’s yours?” MARIO: “Mario Bracatoni.” ADAM: “Cool.” MARIO: “I guess. We don’t appear to have any shared experiences or common ground so I’m leaving now.”
Sad, right? Now, let’s imagine a conversation with the rivalries; ADAM: “Hey dude, you’re a junior, right?” MARIO: “Damn right Adam! I can’t wait for rally day this year, I’m pumped to take on the seniors.” ADAM: “Absolutely! I love being a junior.” MARIO: “I can’t believe we have such common ground! You seem like a cool guy, let’s be friends.”
I acknowledge that the transition to high school can be extra daunting for freshmen. BHS can be a scary place, even without fear of being egged by someone who happened to be born a year before you. That being said, the hate is mostly totally superficial and the truth is upperclassmen actually treat freshmen relatively well. When I was a freshman, I found upperclassmen to be friendly and supportive, and programs like Link Leaders, where upperclassmen lead freshman orientation, made a big difference.
Unfortunately, I think distance learning has the potential to leave a real blot on the rivalries, and change school spirit at BHS forever. Next year, half the school will not have experienced a single Rally Day. This year’s freshmen may hold the same exact status next year, and we will essentially have two grades of freshmen. They will be sophomores who have never spent a day on campus, who have never sat though the mind-stifling heat of the third floor C-Building, and who have never experienced the “hazing” and introduction to BHS that freshmen normally do. I have dubbed them “forever freshmen.” In fact, my class (’22) will be the only grade to have actually had a full year of regular school. Our school spirit is in danger, and next year the classes of ’22 and ’23 will have to step up to preserve it, otherwise it could be lost forever. And that would be a crying shame.