Lane Tech-Taft: A rivalry gone digital

By Rosie Langello

In 2003, Mahmoud Abdelfattah was standing at the foul line on Taft’s Senior Night with two minutes left to play when a fight broke out in the stands. When he looked up, the entire student section started running towards him.

“Before I knew it, I didn’t even have the ball anymore,” Adelfattah said. “There was elbows and punches being thrown and security was trying to break up the hundreds of students.”

That was a memorable moment in one of the most heated rivalries in the city. Taft and Lane Tech are the two largest high schools in the Chicago Public School district and stand only six miles apart.

But in recent years, the 25-year old rivalry has drifted from fist fighting, to keyboard punching.

“This has been going on for years and it’s pathetic,” said Lane Tech senior Almina Sabanovic. “Just recently we played Uplift High School, who is very good at basketball, and we got dunked on by one of their players. Taft printed out that image and they also posted it everywhere. It’s very disrespectful.”

Over the years, social media has exaggerated the rivalry and a lot of the tension has nothing to do with the players at all, said Brett Nishibayashi, in his 15th year as Taft basketball coach and an alumnus of the school.

“I don’t think the rivalry has been as contentious as it is now…,” he said. “You know with social media giving everybody a voice to put out there, it amplifies the level of the rivalry amongst students and fans who are not even competing.”

Nishibayashi said in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Taft was the premier team in the Red North conference but there was more of a rivalry in football and baseball back then.

During his senior year, there were words exchanged during a football game but no fight occurred. However, when Abdelfattah was playing basketball as a sophomore, the Chicago Police Department was called during another fight and had to escort Taft out of the gym.

“Every year if a fight didn’t break out there was one that was close to breaking out,” Abdelfattah said.

In recent years, the rivalry has grown strongest in basketball.

In an emotional game last Wednesday night, Taft won in over-time against Lane Tech 67-65. Not a seat could be found as students from both high schools filled Taft’s gymnasium for the much anticipated game.

When Lane missed their free throws Taft yelled “You can’t touch us” and “LTK” (Lane Tech Killers). When the Indians had the lead, their student section yelled “scoreboard, scoreboard!” back at them.

The tension could be felt across the court between the two schools but instead of adding fuel to the fire, assistant coach Matt Villanueva was concentrating on negating the tension between the two schools.

He was tweeting updates, taking pictures and uploading videos to Lane’s very own Twitter account.

“Through twitter, we were able to calm whatever tension there was between both teams,” the Taft alumnus said. “The mutual respect on social media between both schools was something we definitely noticed right away through the account.”

Villanueva started Lane’s basketball Twitter account in 2013 and he said the account has gained a lot of traction since to the point where now the stands are full for every game.

“We want people to know that we have fun over at Lane Tech but we also take care of business at the same time,” Villanueva said.  “Honestly, there isn’t a better way to display both sides of that than through easily accessible social media accounts.”

He even captured the last play when senior Taft player Izaiah Sanders helped sophomore Lane player, Vuk Djuric off the ground while Taft’s student section stormed the court.

While the rivalry has gone to extremes in the past, the display of sportsmanship shows the respect each program has for one another.

“The two schools are like two brothers that kind of just…split,” Taft’s Principal Mark Grishaber said. “We may yell and scream at one another but we’re all going to shake hands and go out and get pizza over at Dino’s when we’re done.”

Photo at top: Taft shoots a free throw during the 3rd quarter of Wednesdays night game against their rival Lane Tech. (Rosie Langello/MEDILL)