If the iconic Broadway musical West Side Story had more of a peaceful ending it might have looked something like the Kenai Central and Soldotna high schools' rivalry summit held Tuesday at Kenai Peninsula College.
The two schools have a rivalry spanning decades -- and football championships -- but in recent years the competition has escalated, causing concern for students and administrators.
"We were hit on four or five different occasions," said Soldotna High Principal Todd Syverson of the vandalism the school experienced earlier this year.
There was graffiti on the concession area near the football field as well as on the school's star symbols that are typically painted on the road near the school. But the most egregious act happened in September at the height of football season.
"Someone one came in and dug about 30 different holes throughout the football field, pretty good sized holes," Syverson said. "That kind of took the vandalism to a different level."
So the student leaders at both high schools decided to take the matters into their own hands, and with the help of Kenai Peninsula Youth Court Executive Director Ginny Espenshade, recently held a summit to discuss ways to use the rivalry to the schools' and community's benefit.
"It fit with what youth court does as kind of more of a prevention," Espenshade said. "If a crime is committed in the name of school spirit we still have to deal with it as a crime."
Some 25 student government leaders from both Kenai Central and Soldotna participated in the meeting last week.
Olivia Pfeifer, a junior at Kenai Central, was among them.
The junior class president and Youth Court judge said the 2-hour meeting was positive and productive.
"We talked about why we like the rivalry: it keeps us motivated to work harder in sports," she said.
They also talked about the cons of the rivalry and brainstormed ways to "keep the rivalry but keep it fun," she said.
The big ideas that came out of that meeting was for a multi-school student council to include all local high schools to put on events like dances and food drives.
The students also thought a physical outlet for the rivalry at Soldotna High School could lessen the blow of vandalism there.
At Kenai Central High School there is a big rock in the parking lot that is open for any community member to paint. Right now the painted rock sports a mustachioed smiley face, and occasionally it is a target for other students in the area to paint with their school colors.
Pfeifer said the students would like to get a similar big rock at Soldotna High and maybe even one in between the two schools as a more concrete and inexpensive way for them to manifest the rivalry.
"It's not something that can cause harm to anyone," she said.
Pfeifer said she personally enjoys the school's rivalry because it pushes her to work harder.
"I think it's a good thing because it keeps people on their toes but I think also it can be too much," she said. "When we try to harm the other person it's not a safe thing and it's not healthy."
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater said he was surprised to see at the meeting that despite the short distance between towns, the students in Soldotna and Kenai don't know each other very well.
"There's very little social interaction," he said, and the students at the summit were "looking for ways to increase level of interaction."
Espenshade said that she was excited for the students to meet with one another and see how much they have in common. The Soldotna student government students were able to see that their counterparts in Kenai are doing the same work, she said.
And even that could help lessen the tension of the rivalry.
"You're more apt to respect another person's property if you know them," she said.
Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche attended the summit, too. He said the meeting was very positive, with the students taking a lead that adults could follow as well.
The summit was about discussing "ways to celebrate what we have in common on the Kenai Peninsula which is so much more than the silly rivalry."
Micciche said he was going to personally take charge of getting Soldotna High School a spirit rock.
"I've already started working on it," he said. "Perhaps when things thaw out we plan on having a rock at SoHi."
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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