The story below is sensory, based on eyewitness accounts from both students and this reporter.
Jackson Prince, co-editor-in-chief
The headline of Beverly’s visit to Santa Monica High School two weeks ago was not the Norman’s basketball victories at each level over the Samo program. Instead, the story was that of a parking lot brawl following the boys varsity basketball game on Friday, Jan. 23, which was one of the more violent displays of the bitter rivalry between the schools.
It began in the third quarter. As Beverly began to pull away with the lead, several Samo students infiltrated the Beverly student section. Samo’s athletic director, Al Trundle, as well as several Samo security guards, looked on as Beverly security escorted these students out of the stands.
“The students from Samo were sneaking into our student body and making a mockery of the situation,” assistant principal Kevin Brown said. “They disrupted our student body. Initially, I went to their security and said, ‘You need to make sure those students are out.’ I went to their athletic director and said, ‘I want those students out.’ Generally, you figure out a plan to stop it from happening, and they didn’t. So I was not pleased with that.”
Chants were directed against each team’s rival student sections, rather than in support of the respective schools’ basketball teams.
“Both sides should just cheer for their own team,” Brown said. “We should end this tradition where both groups of fans interact with each other negatively. A joke or a ‘fun’ interaction can turn into people being injured and cars being vandalized. The sixth man has to have a positive purpose.”
With minutes remaining in the game, a majority of the 300-plus Samo students filed out of the stadium, while a majority of about 60 Beverly students continued to watch the game. When the game ended, Beverly students were directed toward an alternate exit. However, the route was not clear, and Beverly students ended up on the very basketball courts where several Samo students had also been directed.
From there, verbal taunting turned to physical altercations. Students were rushed off campus by Samo faculty members and security guards, who threatened to lock school gates if students didn’t “hurry.” Rather than solve the problem, this set of instructions forced the feuding students closer together.
“Of course, some kids from both sides get way too out of hand over a high school basketball rivalry,” senior Elliot Eghbali said. “It’s not supposed to start riots.”
Samo and Beverly students alike parked in the Civic Center parking lot. A rowdy group of Samo students, led by one Caucasian male wearing a white bandana, began pushing Beverly students and screaming in the parking lot. Both sides participated in a growing confrontation.
“[Samo students] were going crazy,” junior Lena Koumetz said. “They seemed almost drunk, jumping up and down, screaming. They were violently spirited. The Beverly kids that I saw were more walking, doing their own thing, not starting anything, looking to leave. Samo was starting things. Samo started the fighting, 100 percent.”
Soon, vocal assaults led to punches being thrown and returned, although Samo students, who outnumbered the Beverly students, overpowered the guest team’s fans.
“A guy said, ‘I don’t like your face’, and he punched me in the face,” senior Joe Zarif said. “Those kids picked the fight for no reason. I found myself surrounded by all these people stepping on us. I was just trying to defend and not let them push us around.”
As Beverly students sought refuge in their cars, Samo students surrounded cars and began to kick headlights, jump on roofs and slam open doors, all the while chanting “SAMO” and “Beverly Hills Killers”.
Junior Matt Lavi recounted to Highlights the facts he gave to Santa Monica police officers just after the incident occurred.
“Me and about seven other friends were followed by about 20 Samo kids into the parking lot, and then, at the parking lot, about 40 more Samo kids popped out of nowhere and started to threaten us, shouting, telling us to empty our pockets,” Lavi said. “A couple of Beverly students’ parents told me to get out of there as fast as I could. I ran to my car with three of my friends, trying to leave, when a mob surrounded my car. While I was backing out, a Samo kid kicked out my taillight. I tried getting out the other way when another crowd came forward and another Samo kid kicked out my headlight. I finally got some room to get out from the back when some other Samo kids jumped on my car and started keying my trunk.”
Once word spread that a “fight” was breaking out in the parking lot, swarms of Samo students ran across Pico Boulevard from the exit of the school to the parking lot, disrupting traffic and causing chaos. Bystanders called the police.
The only adults in the parking lot during these initial five minutes of discord and violence were parents of Beverly students, who had also attended the game. No Samo security, no Samo faculty or administration, and no police monitored the parking lot during this time.
The Santa Monica Police Department, as well as Samo principal Eva Mayoral, declined to comment.
Once Santa Monica police did arrive, most students fled, running through the parking lot and hopping into random cars, which sped away before police were able to pull vehicles or students over. The majority of these students were from Samo. Within a minute, the parking lot quieted, and police investigation began, as they talked with Beverly students and parents.
According to The Samohi, Mayoral “congratulated Samo on the intensity of the fans and players at the game, but expressed her disappointment about a lack of a standard of sportsmanship” in an announcement over the school’s PA system on the following Monday.
“When you’re a school administrator, your priority is safety, supervision and the well-being of all students, regarding your school and the school you’re playing,” Brown said. “All students must understand there’s a certain way we want students to interact and behave at a game, which is a school activity.”
Samo will visit the Swim Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 10 for a rematch. Assistant principal Michelle Halimi-Dar believes “people will feel a very drastic difference.”
“All five security guards will be here, police will be here. We need to protect our kids. We can’t rely on other people to protect our kids for us,” she said.
Principal Carter Paysinger understands that Samo will put into effect several adjustments in order to prevent such a situation from occurring again.
“I spoke with the principal. She said they were going to employ Samo police from now on in that parking lot at the conclusion of an event. The path from the school to the parking lot will be improved safety-wise. They told us they weren’t taking it lightly,” he said.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 3, Paysinger has not received a call back from Samo regarding videos of the incident (some of which are embedded above) and names from the scene that were sent to their school.
Halimi-Dar hopes that the rivalry will remain on the court.
“I know that a lot of our students were put in a difficult position,” she said. “I like to tell our kids that we’re better than that. Leave it on the court and then step aside. When you’re backed into a corner it’s a little different, but we show them on the court who we are.”
Norman students shared a common sentiment regarding the future of the rivalry.
“I don’t want anything like what happened at that game to ever happen again, but I still want a fun rivalry,” Zarif said.
Administration will be prepared for Senior Night, in which Samo will take on the first-place Normans in the final Ocean League contest of the season. Administration believes that the game should be “fine.”
“We have a plan in place that will put in place the safety we want to provide,” Paysinger said.
UPDATE: On Saturday, Feb. 7, Samo parents were sent an email from Principal Eva Mayoral, regarding the incident and the upcoming Beverly game. Here is the main body:
“I’m asking that every parent have a conversation with their student, especially those who will be attending games at Beverly, about how they will behave should Beverly students engage in taunting. My expectation is that kids will cheer with intensity, but when the game ends, we embrace the symbolism of the players’ hand shakes, and end the competition. I’d like all our students to take the lead of our players (boys and girls), and win or lose, disappointed or elated, we walk (and drive) away with honor and pride in a game well played. I need each of you to take the temperature of your child; If you don’t believe that your student can ignore, or refrain from, taunting, please keep him or her home. If your child believes that violence is acceptable if it is provoked by vulgar, disrespectful, taunting, then please keep him or her home. While the interaction after the last game was a small number of students, social media chatter has a way of amplifying everything. Therefore, in an abundance of caution, I ask that you also encourage your student to disengage from any such postings.
If I do not believe that we can participate at Beverly safely, I will cancel all games. This is not my goal, nor is it my hope. I believe in spirited competition and rivalry as a means of drawing us tightly together, but not at the sacrifice of safety, or honor, or sportsmanship.”