By Kathryn Eident, Globe Correspondent
More than 50 Needham students cheered the boys’ varsity hockey team to their eighth victory of the season against Natick at the Babson Ice Center Saturday.
The smaller and quieter-than-usual group of students turned out to support the Rockets after fans received a one-game suspension last week for rowdy behavior at a game against archrival Wellesley.
But on Saturday night, instead of heckling and jeering, students stood on the bleachers chanting in unison, “Hey baby! I want to know, will you be my girl,” each time a Needham Rocket scored.
The students, chatting and munching on candy between goals, were watched closely by crowd monitors in easily identifiable gold and navy jackets.
Needham parents, also sitting nearby, said that the group was missing some of the louder and more unruly fans from previous games.
“It’s not the usual crowd,” said Blair Merriman, a Needham resident and self-described hockey fan. “It’s usually jam-packed all the way to the glass.”
Though some of the parents said they thought the punishment was tough, they agreed that school officials could not ignore inappropriate behavior.
“They did have to do something,” said Ellen Nickles, the parent of a sophomore varsity hockey player. “I go back and forth, but they did have to do something.”
Other parents thought suspending student-fans was unfair.
“I thought it was a little extreme. To the extent that they publicized it—it was harsh,” said Trish Joyce, the mother of two varsity hockey players. “I think [the student-fans] got the word, but I don’t think they should do it again.”
The one-game suspension is not the first time Needham school officials have addressed rambunctious fan behavior, though it may be their toughest group penalty for poor sportsmanship at sporting events to-date.
When the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association criticized Needham fans for inappropriate conduct last season, school officials reacted by placing more crowd monitors at games and amended the student handbook.
But when students jeered at MIAA representatives observing at the Needham-Wellesley game in December, the administration clamped down on fan behavior, worried that another citation could affect the Rockets’ eligibility for the playoffs. The Rockets are 8-0 and the defending Division 1 state champs.
“I think some people are starting to take it seriously now,” said Erin McCann, a Needham junior sitting with her friends in the student bleacher section. “Personally, I don’t think it’s that bad. Games have been like this for a while. It’s the fun of the game.”
Standing behind the glass on the other side of the rink, Senior Derek Piersiak said he was staying away from the bleachers to avoid getting the hockey team into any more trouble.
“We’re usually in the stands but tonight we’re on our best behavior,” he said. “Now it could affect the team getting into the playoffs, so we chose to stay out of the stands to get a game of good behavior.”
Everyone agreed that the Needham fans were well behaved Saturday night.
“The kids are doing perfectly well,” said Assistant Principal Leo Hogan, who stood near the student section for most of the game.
As the ending buzzer rang, the final score 4-1 Needham, the students quickly and calmly filed out of the bleachers and out into the snowy parking lot.
“They’re great kids, they have lots of enthusiasm, and they really care,” said Colin Coleman, the parent of a player. “Sometimes they get carried away.”
“Right now they’ve [the administration] asked us to do something and were going to do that—we’re taking this request seriously,” he added. “The key is we all have to work together. It’s part of being in the community.”
The Needham Rockets play their next game at Weymouth on Wednesday, January 14, 2009.
For schedules and more information visit: www.nhs.needham.k12.ma.us