A Rivarly At Its Half-Centennial

As the game clock casts 0:06 in faint orange over the court senior Saint Ann’s guard Willis Cohen takes the basketball a few steps before the three-point line. If he were to look to his right his vision would be filled teachers, students and administrators, some in blue, some in maroon and all cheering, clapping, banging drums, anything to will their team to victory. But time is slipping away and Willis only has 4 seconds to someone how cast his team into the NYSAIS C Division championship. A hesitation, a cross over, a step-back and then it’s up. In the two seconds the shot is airborne a 47 year-old rivalry hangs in the air with it, every meet, every game every overtime being recounted by screaming fans who have, at least for these two seconds, become one. Another Packer-Saint Ann’s game has come down to just one shot.

If you were to look at Brooklyn Heights from above chances are two buildings would catch your eye. The first of these two structures is a former apartment building with a seven story limestone façade that currently houses one of the Heights’ two independent high schools, Saint Ann’s. Three blocks south stands a similarly intriguing building, red-bricked with spires rising from the main bluff as if belonging to some long forgotten castle, Packer Collegiate Institute For 47 years these two schools have looked on each other from opposite ends of the Heights, sometimes with a scowl, sometimes with a grin but most often just sizing themselves up against their conscripted fraternal twin.

Separated by only 0.2 miles, these two schools have had an established rivalry through their complex histories. Founded in 1845, Packer was birthed 120 years prior to its rival by a group “of all the citizens interested in the cause of female education”, a direct product of the Antebellum Era’s women’s movement. In 1965 Saint Ann’s was also founded by virtue of a movement of progression, built on the ideals of counter-culture by late founder Stanley Bosworth who was said to have “envisioned an academically rigorous school for the gifted, from pre-school through high school, with no grades and few rules” in his New York Times obituary.

Despite contrasts in their curricular, many Packer students, especially those who attended prior to high school, have stayed acquainted, if not friendly or romantic with Saint Ann’s students due to the close proximity of the two schools. It is not uncommon camaraderie to be forged through siblings, extracurricular activities or just crossed paths especially with today’s increased use of social media. Yet the underlying tension between the two schools, often due to athletic competition, has been known to put a strain on Packer-Saint Ann’s relationships.

“I have a couple friends but it’s hard to maintain real friendships because there is so much tension centered around sports,” said Jake Miller(’13) of his friendships with Saint Ann’s students.

Elie Romano(’13) expressed similar sentiment to that of Jake. “I’m not really acquainted with them but they seem like generally nice people. There still some who think they are really good at basketball though,” said Elie.

It’s not surprising that many point towards sporting events held between the two schools as the source of tension between students. With no school owning a clear superiority from an academic standpoint, athletics frequently stand as the main distinguisher of dominance between the two institutions. Already this year the two schools have matched up in three pivotal playoff games.

In late October the two varsity boys soccer teams matched up in the ACIS Semi-finals where Packer advanced to the Finals with 5-3 routing of Saint Ann’s. Four days later, Packer’s varsity girls soccer team fell to Saint Ann’s in dramatic fashion, losing 1-0 in penalty kicks on a rainy Halloween night.

On Mar. 2 Packer took on Saint Ann’s in the second floor gym in what was arguably the biggest game played at Packer in eight years. Packer had previously defeated Saint Ann’s twice in the ACIS Semi-finals, but this matchup came in the NYSAIS Semi-finals, a game in which both teams weren’t expected to be playing coming in the season. Described as a “backyard brawl” by the New York Post the Pelicans overcame an early 13 point deficit to win a game that came down to a missed three-pointer by Saint Ann’s Captain point guard Willis Cohen (’12).

Though Packer-Saint Ann’s games come with the tag of physicality in almost every sport, this matchup was especially bestial. Hard contact left players such as Dylan Browther (’13) on the floor for several minutes. Tension between the two sides nearly boiled over when Saint Ann’s Captain center Jake Nidenberg (’12) and Packer Captain center Nick Morton (’12) got into a shoving match before becoming tangled and falling to the court, causing some extra-curricular shoving.

“[Nidenberg] and I are friends off the court, but sometimes you just can’t help it. From tip to the buzzer, I’m going at him” said Nick.

Tension almost reached crescendo again after the game as a Saint Ann’s student had to be restrained by a security guard from Saint Ann’s after giving the middle finger and yelling explicit language at the Packer faithful. The security guard warned students and players not to get in fights with Packer students, asking them instead to “punch a wall” to take out their frustrations over the loss. Despite this, a Packer sophomore who wished not to be named reported being followed by several Saint Ann’s students after leaving the game with a friend. While no physical altercation took place the student says that the followers harassed them verbally.

Though the rivalry between the two schools is often most apparent on the basketball court some athletes, beyond just Nick and Jake N., are friendly with each other outside of the gym.

“I’m friends with Ethan and some other players on [junior varsity boys basketball] We’re not that close but it gives us something to talk about and stay connected through. I don’t think I’d be friends with them if it weren’t for basketball,” said Saint Ann’s guard Connor Warnick (’14).

While the Packer-Saint Ann’s rivalry has ended for the winter, it should be in full bloom again come spring. Saint Ann’s could not compete with Packer in track or softball last year, but there was more than enough drama on the baseball diamond to compensate. In the junior varsity boys baseball championship, first seeded Packer was upset by Saint Ann’s 4-2. For the two varsity teams, Packer and Saint Ann’s matched up twice. The Pelicans fell to the Steamers in the first game before taking them on in a rematch in front of bleachers packed with supporters from both schools.

A large social media presence helped build excitement in the weeks before the game. This was most evident on Facebook, where an event for the game created by members of the Packer team quickly became a battle ground where players and fans from both sides insulted one another for weeks before and after the game. Two days before the game emotions were at their highest, spearheaded by Saint Ann’s pitcher Ivan Zeavin-Moss’s (’12) effort to talk “smack”.

After Ivan posted several insulting songs created through the website gobarbra.com, an online application that allows users to create one-line songs sung by an electronic persona, Packer alum Adam Saul(’11) responded by posting a “meme” saying “Ivan, why you look like jungle creature?”. Ivan commented on the link with a Go Barbra song with the line “You’re a b****”, sparking a 38 comment battle between players and fans from both schools that included threats of physical confrontation. While there was no violence as a result of the conflict, it set the stage for an emotional game two days later.

As Packer came to bat at the bottom of the 6th inning during the May 13 game, the Steamers led 7-4. However a late rally netted the Pelicans 13 runs before the mercy rule was instituted as they toppled Saint Ann’s 17-7 in memorable fashion.
Many of the players and the fans involved in the pre-game trash talking, including Ivan, remain at their respective schools, which means fans from both sides can look forward to another emotional spring installment of this 47 year-old rivalry.

Nicholas Strong, Age 16, Grade 11, Packer Collegiate Institute, Silver Key

Leave a Reply