Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rat Pack Reincarnated

Anyone who attended a boys’ high school basketball game at Winslow High School in the mid-1980s remembers the original Rat Pack.

A loud, sometimes unruly bunch of upperclassmen, they gathered in the top rows of the bleachers closest to the boys' locker room and cheered the home team with air horn blasts and cow bells (until both were banned by the administration) and chants that were comical, often irreverent and intended to rattle the visiting team at Mansfield Gymnasium.

Facebook file photo of some of Hall-Dale
High School's basketball game student performers
Led by a handful of regular antagonists, the group was wildly popular because of its vocal talents, particularly the end-of-game chant that marked a winning effort (“Is that not the winning team? Yes, that is the winning team! Is that not the losing team? Yes, that is the losing team! Winning team, losing team, winning team, losing team…”).

When it formed, the Rat Pack was mostly respectful. In its later years, its increasingly rowdy nature and targeted, mean-spirited remarks toward specific players led to it being disbanded (upon threat of suspension).

But the early years were fun to watch and the Pack added to the excitement of the games by creating a circus-type atmosphere of school pride.

They even created their own custom Rat Pack shirts at one point to clearly identify members for those spectators who may have been sensory impaired.

Hall-Dale High School proudly has its own version of the Rat Pack – which has been on display this week at the Augusta Civic Center and will continue to be as long as the Bulldogs’ boys’ and girls’ teams remain alive in the annual high school basketball tournament.

They dress in the school's colors – with an assortment of outlandish accessories and props – and expertly fill any moments of silence with cheering that is both clever and entertaining.

Their performance starts with the introduction of opposing players – with each student pretending to read a newspaper to show disinterest – and continues through free throws, suspect fouls (“I disagree!”) and other aspects of play throughout the game.

Led during the girls’ games by cheer captain Ben Crocker, a senior who plays on the boys team, the group’s signature move is a synchronized “human rollercoaster” that’s both high energy and high comedy.

Displays by a high school’s student body have become less common in recent years – which is a shame for those who remember them at their own high schools or at the Bangor Auditorium, where the Winslow teams of my youth played tournament games.

That said, watching the Hall-Dale Bulldogs in action is a real treat for tournament goers.

Check them out at the Augusta Civic Center. They hope to be there all week – and possibly longer.

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