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The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

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An Honest Look at the Bellevue and Mercer Island Rivalry

An Honest Look at the Bellevue and Mercer Island Rivalry
Lena Hardisty

If you go to Mercer Island High School, you’re probably no stranger to hearing “F*** Bellevue” chants and witnessing hate incidents that contribute to the aura of the KingCo rivalry between Bellevue and Mercer Island. The rivalry, which is not even the rivalry native to MIHS, stirs up anticipation each time Bellevue is slotted on any of MIHS’ sports schedules. Regardless of the excitement that often fuels good competition in sports, the rivalry is almost entirely trivial. 

Below is the vicious cycle which is crucial when evaluating the reasons for why students participate in the rivalry between Bellevue and Mercer Island. The cycle is essentially just modeling of behavior seen through a Mercer Island lens. 

  1. From older siblings, observation or athletics, a student starts to learn there’s a consensus hatred, at the very least a distaste, towards Bellevue.
  2. Regardless of how respectful the student believes they are, they start to jump in on the tirade. Maybe just for fun. 
  3. The cycle repeats itself. But now, other students see that previous student doing it and conform to the norm. 

First, let’s disregard the obvious–administration’s favorite social issue, inclusivity, which the rivalry historically has done nothing but spit in the face of. Now, onto the more important; students of Mercer Island almost never truly care. They get involved because it’s entertaining and something to do when times get boring. As a proud Islander moshing in the amphitheater after a great football win, I can see it’s a lot more fun and easy to join in on the chants than not to. But personally, I don’t have a reason to–I haven’t been wronged by any Bellevue kids. 

Yet it would be unfair to not acknowledge that there is a passionate bunch of kids who contribute to the rivalry’s buzz for serious reasons. Because of past incidents of racism and sexual misconduct, there is a much deeper reason for some individuals. Take for example just two years ago in the fall, when hostility reached historic highs before and after the Mercer Island-Bellevue football game. Islanders reported allegations of racism toward them, Bellevue fans urinated on the MIHS field and MIHS students disrespected the Liberty Bell at Bellevue’s stadium. These instances serve as great context to understanding why some students find it reasonable to direct hate towards the school across the lake. 

To further understand how the rivalry feeds student competition, I spoke with Boys Basketball Head Coach, PE teacher and alumnus Gavin Cree. His perspective provides just one source to form a more holistic view of the rivalry from. As a young sports fan in the early ‘90s, Cree grew up watching big Mercer Island football and basketball games. In what might be hard to imagine now, Newport High School was the biggest power in 3A football during the time, not Bellevue. Because of their success, Newport naturally became a rival to Mercer Island. When I sat down with Cree, he said that the Newport rivalry had similar tendencies to Bellevue in its time.

“The Newport [rivalry] was pretty toxic back in the day. There were fights and cops had to be at football games and basketball games,” Cree said. 

Friction continued until the 2008-09 season when Newport made the jump up to 4A strictly for football. This change forced a new school to hold the power in 3A KingCo football, and the attention subsequently shifted towards Bellevue, the next best competitor. But along with the switch, Cree points to other possible reasons for how the rivalry with Bellevue got its start.

“The Bellevue rivalry was always a thing just because of the proximity,” Cree said.  “I always think that [Bellevue and Mercer Island] are similar communities, similar socioeconomic statuses and have people that rub shoulders in the business community. It’s very integrated in that way and I think that leads to a rivalry.” 

Yet with as many similarities the two communities have, there are still fundamental differences between them that help explain why the two schools are constantly vying for superiority.

“Mercer Island is this closed community where we all grow up together and there’s very clear boundaries,” Cree said. “And then Bellevue, especially in sports, is feeding from other parts of Bellevue where maybe athletes would go to other schools. For [Mercer Island] it’s like, we’re this little but mighty community and we take pride in being that homegrown group.” 

When I asked Cree if he thought students are engaging in the rivalry because of peer pressure and/or to have fun, he agreed. 

“Like a lot of things here, or [at] any high school, you’re a freshman and you’re kind of getting into the social scene, you just kind of do what everybody else is doing,” Cree said. “It’s that modeling of behavior that leads to the next and so the freshmen come in here wide-eyed and go ‘Oh, the seniors and the Flag Dudes, they’re talking to the ref from the crowd and that’s what I should do.’”

As Cree points out, modeling of behavior is inevitable in high school. I don’t think that can ever change. But there is a mutual responsibility on both sides of the issue–the students who model and the students who follow. The day that the seniors and the Flag Dudes don’t pay mind to the rivalry is the day that the freshmen and sophomores won’t.

I mentioned earlier there are students who find it reasonable to engage in the rivalry due to past personal incidents. In their case, I challenge them to first forgive. Afterwards, they should drop their personal hate that can manifest itself into school hatred. There is never a justification in hating a school because of one person’s actions. Personal incidents and the rivalry need to be judged independently of each other. The legitimate reason to be involved in the rivalry is for the competition it breeds. As soon as any rivalry descends into mutual hatred and immaturity, the positives of competition we all love are deafened. 

To my target audience, the students who engage for no true reasons, please reserve your energy. Judging strictly from a logistical perspective, the rivalry is a waste of your time. From schoolwork and extracurricular activities to spending time with friends and finding belonging at a cliquey school, you have enough draining tasks. Adding the rivalry to a demanding schedule, especially when you choose to participate from a place of prejudice, makes you not only a disrespectful Islander, but also a disrespectful individual. At the end of the day, you are a person as well as an Islander. 

Under a microscope, the Bellevue and Mercer Island rivalry is a tale of two towns who simply compete in athletics and compete for bragging rights.. A healthy rivalry with two schools that want to prove competitive superiority isn’t the problem. Excitement that brews into animosity which subsequently influences impressionable teenagers is the problem. Until we have students who think before they act, which will probably never happen, the rivalry will sadly only continue to serve as a representation of the larger issue that is teenage immaturity–an age-old issue that no one can surely say will ever change, no matter the rivalry in question.

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About the Contributor
Lena Hardisty, Editor in Chief
Lena is a senior and in their fourth year on the Islander staff. In the past, they’ve held the roles of Cartoonist, Illustrator, and Spread and Design Lead. Outside of Journalism, they have a passion for politics, DIY, and art.  

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  • P

    Paelun BFeb 2, 2024 at 3:52 pm

    Perhaps it’s because of my friendship group selection bias, and because I’m not an Islander native, but I’ve always had the impression that the rivalry was more like a tradition rather than something students were actively emotionally involved in. If they are, then I definitely agree, that kind of stuff is really dumb. But I think having a friendly rivalry could actually be healthy for getting people more actively engaged/invested in community activities, as every story is made better by a good villain. We just have to make sure we don’t slip into legitimately viewing our neighbors as villains. Great article!

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  • J

    Joe BryantFeb 1, 2024 at 1:05 am

    Well said Dylan. MI and Bellevue students have way more in common with each other than they have differences. They might become your college roommates, teammates co-workers, business partners or even family members in the not too distant future.
    Bad sportsmanship makes any game a loss no matter what the score.
    Bellevue students could also become your teachers.
    I started my radio journey at KASB, Bellevue High and graduated from Newport. But now I consider myself an Islander! And I am always thrilled when MI beats Bellevue in any sport or other endeavor, including Radio! And speaking of Radio, I think it would be awesome to do a live sports broadcast with KMIH and KASB students on the microphones together in the Spring! LaCrosse, Soccer, Baseball, Softball? I say let’s celebrate a Rivalry that has been around since even before I attended in the late 70’s. and also celebrate that we all are so blessed to live in an area and age full of opportunity and possibilities.. Ain’t no time to hate.
    Joe Bryant
    Newport Class of ‘81

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