Western Christian vs PAC girls basketball

Western Christian High School students toss their cellphones into a box before the tip-off against Pocahontas Area Community High School on Monday at Sheldon High School. Handing over the digital devices improves fan participation. 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

SHELDON, Iowa | Journal photographer Tim Hynds catches oddities all over Siouxland and brings them to us through his lens.

A box has Hynds' attention on Monday night at Sheldon High School.

He's shooting an Iowa Class 2A Regional Final in girls basketball when a box of cellphones passes before his off-court glance.

The box has dozens of phones, adding to it by the second going row to row -- a collection plate of a digital persuasion.

How serious is basketball at Western Christian? The girls head to Des Moines this week intent on delivering a rare three-peat of back-to-back-to-back state titles. All told, Western Christian has won two girls basketball crowns and six in boys basketball.

Basketball goes beyond serious here, as those statistics may indicate. It bounces a bit higher on Western's collective radar when seniors in the Wolfpack student section notice freshmen texting and using Snapchat as the boys' team defeats Sioux Falls Christian High School on Feb. 13.

Inattentiveness irks Zach Van't Hul and Kyle Fykstra. They fetch an empty box from the hall and place their cellphones inside. They ask -- er, ahem, gently persuade -- senior buddies to do the same. They carry the box to higher ground, an area of the cheap seats dominated by high school newbies.

"The underclassmen were all sitting up there, and on their phones, Snapchatting and texting each other. They weren't watching the game," Van't Hul says. "We had them put their phones in the box and they started watching the game, cheering along with us, paying attention."

A fad is born. Or a cultural expectation. A teachable moment.

"Your photographer is spot-on with what he observed," Dan Barkel, the Western Christian principal says. "That's how it's gone down."

Barkel holds the phones, securing these pricey and can't-live-without gadgets until each game ends. On Monday, students in the Wolfpack cheering section grab the devices after they congratulate their girls for defeating Pocahontas Area Community High School in one of Northwest Iowa's more entertaining contests all season.

Ten minutes after the game concludes, Barkel still holds five phones. Those students finally remember they have a phone that's always within reach, except during basketball games. They catch up with the principal and reconnect, pun intended.

I'm sitting at a different game Monday, in a different fan section, one dominated by moms, dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents. My off-court glances have me wondering if parents should also place phones in a box. At each quarter break in my area of the gymnasium, heads bow as people text and tweet what's what.

I'm guilty of it, too, and have spent many a Friday night tweeting touchdowns and turnovers from a football game amid bites of popcorn.

"I'm guilty, too," Barkel says, admitting he frequently checks his phone while he's standing along the basketball baseline near the Wolfpack student section.

He laughs as we talk, offering an administrator's justification: "I tell the kids I can't put my phone in the box. If I'd have to call a two-hour late start, I couldn't do it without my phone!"

Van't Hul and the seniors make exceptions as well, allowing students to retrieve their phones during a game. However, the privilege comes with a price. "If they get their phone, they have to read to everybody the text they got and the text they sent," Van't Hul says.

The rule, which starts as a joke, now appears to be part of this student-led movement.

I embrace the movement. I tell Van't Hul I'll write about Western Christian's collection box.

Van't Hul says he'll read it via @SCJTimG on Twitter. But not during a game. The Wolfpack begin defense of the Class 2A girls state basketball title at 10 a.m. Tuesday.



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