Controversy swirls around fan section nickname

The student fan section cheers during football game against SCH on October 15, 2022 – Pierce Laveran ’24

There is a phrase.

A phrase that one may hear in the halls, the classrooms, the meeting spaces of the upper school. A phrase that students say openly to one another. A phrase that titles a group that a majority of upper school students are members of. 

But one would be hard pressed to find any student leader or faculty member pronouncing this phrase in public.

This phrase is “The Gentlemen’s Club.”

This is the name of a student group and its corresponding group chat dedicated to bringing students to sports games and other school events. It was founded in 2009 as a way to encourage students to support one another at sports games. It has gone through iterations over the years, but its current form centers around a group chat on the social media app Groupme. The chat has 294 members as of November 5, 2022, making it possibly the largest student “club.”

“I’d say the Gentlemen’s Club is just a group of guys that comes together. I’d say it’s an example of the whole school, but the group of guys that specifically comes together for sports games and supports their brothers,” the anonymous Sixth Former known as the Fieldhouse Fanatic, a leader of the club, said.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “gentlemen’s club” as “a nightclub for men that features scantily clad women dancers or stripteasers.”

I think everybody understands what’s intended.

Mr. Kevin tryon

“Let’s be honest. Anything that basically evokes the idea of a strip club is not going to feel great,” History Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish said. “I would like to think that would make a lot of men on the faculty also not feel great. But I do think, yes, that it is something that is cringy in terms of something that the boys have created and labeled and seem very invested in.” 

The leaders of the club define the name in other terms.

“Other people could say different; they could know more than I could. But I think the intent wasn’t there. I think it’s just, you know, all-guys school, we’re gentlemen. I understand, yeah, it’s named after a strip club, but I don’t think the intent was there to name it after a strip club. But I don’t know all the facts,” the Fieldhouse Fanatic said. 

Sixth Former and student body president Luka Sekulic stressed the innocuousness of the name in its current form.

“There has obviously been a lot of controversy around the ‘Gent’s Club’ over the years, with the name kind of being looked as misogynistic and controversial. But the name has kind of taken a new form at Haverford, and other senior leaders will also agree that ‘Gent’s Club’ has a different meaning in the sense that it’s what we are. We are gentlemen, and it is a club of gentlemen. That’s what it means at Haverford.”

History teacher Mr. Kevin Tryon, who taught in the upper school for nine years before the conception of the club, cautions against the Fieldhouse Fanatic’s and Sekulic’s interpretation that the name of the club means little more than a club for Haverford gentlemen.

“I just think it’s the sly double entendre, right?” Mr. Tryon said. “That’s what it is. It’s teenagers having fun and kind of maybe poking authority in the eye…I think everybody understands what’s intended. I don’t think anybody is as naive as [to think that the club’s name refers only to] living up to our dress code and our honor code and our principles of a Haverford graduate, by any means.” 

No matter the intent of the club’s founders, its name causes intense discomfort to members of the community.

“[The name of the club] was definitely one of those things that, when I first came to Haverford, I was like ‘ugh’ just because of the connotations that it has,” Math teacher Ms. Barbara LaPenta said.

Mr. Tryon disliked the impression that the name would give to middle and lower schoolers. 

“In particular, 2008, 9, 10, I [had] an 8 or 9 year old who’s in school here and he’s asking about sports. He’s interested in sports, and he’s asking, ‘Dad, why do they call it the Gentlemen’s Club?’ And I thought, ‘that’s not something I wanted to explain to a Haverford lower schooler or middle schooler,’” Mr. Tryon said.

As a result of the club’s name, which is innocent enough that students can defend it, yet draws enough misogynistic connotations to offend many members of the community, the club is shunned by the school.

“‘The Gentlemen’s Club’ is not a sanctioned upper school student organization. They’re not registered as a club in the upper school,” Head of Upper School Mr. Mark Fifer said. “There’s no formal affiliation or connection [between the upper school and the ‘Gentlemen’s Club’]. We’re aware that it exists and that students use that name to describe the group of students who try to gather students for athletic contests, but it’s not a registered organization in the upper school with a faculty advisor or any of that.” Mr. Fifer added that “it is a name that has been generated by students.”

I hope I never have to educate boys about why the term “wife beater” is intensely problematic in about 25 different ways,

Ms. Hannah turlish

School publications don’t print the phrase. For about the last ten years, this newspaper has a policy to replace any use of the name with “student fan section.” Acknowledgements of the “Gentlemen’s Club” used to appear in the yearbook — a 2013 Haligoluk’s basketball section referring to the club as the “team’s true sixth man” — the yearbook no longer prints those words. 

“On our clubs page we don’t put ‘Gentlemen’s Club’ in there because it’s not a club through the school. It’s not Model UN; it’s not speech and debate; it’s not on the same tier as those,” Ms. Lapenta, who is the faculty advisor to The Haligoluk, said. She added, “I hate the name. So also I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting it in print for that reason. We do make sure that we put student section photos in because I think that is very important and a very big part of our school, but the name really throws me off sometimes.”

This predicament—where the largest student organization is not registered by the school and is not supervised by faculty—has caused the club to grow insular among the students, to develop its own customs and traditions. One such tradition is the aforementioned “Fieldhouse Fanatic.” No one really knows exactly what the Fanatic is. He holds no formal title in student leadership yet has enormous cultural power among students, a megaphone straight to the screens of 300 upper schoolers.

“The [Fieldhouse Fanatic] is supposed to be a senior anonymous student who is supposed to spread the support in a funny sense. And it’s just supposed to be something light, meaning that they’re not a person that forces you to come. They’re a person that tells you, ‘Come out. Support your brothers,’” Sekulic said. “It’s like a mascot of the ‘Gent’s Club’ essentially.”

The Fanatic sends messages in the group chat, reminding people about sports games and informing students on the “theme” of the student section. Each Fanatic chooses next year’s Fanatic, which can be a tough process.

“I didn’t necessarily do anything [to become the Fieldhouse Fanatic]. I think what you’ve got to do is just be yourself [to become the Fieldhouse Fanatic], be there for your boys, you know. The Fieldhouse, it’s always passed to the next upcoming senior. So you know, I have a hard decision to make,” the Fieldhouse Fanatic said. 

The leaders of the club attribute the Fanatic’s anonymity to “tradition.”

“You know, I honestly, I thought that question [why the Fieldhouse Fanatic is anonymous] myself when I came to Haverford,” the Fieldhouse Fanatic said. “I think, cause it’s really not, it’s only in the group chat. You go to the game, everybody figures out who it is, you’re starting the chants. But I honestly have no clue. I just think it’s always been that way, it’s been a tradition. I think it’s just going to stay that way. But everyone always ends up finding out who it is when the school year starts.” 

This anonymity in the group chat allows the Fanatic to speak to the student body without the normal supervision that Sixth Formers have when addressing the school, either in student announcements at assemblies or through email. The Fanatic often uses profanity in his texts. He also ridicules the idea of the student who doesn’t “show out” to sports games. 

In a November 4 text to the nearly 300 students, he said, “If you’re not [at the football game] I know the type of person you are.” The exclusionary nature of this text is obvious, especially as students may even have religious obligations during game times, as Orthodox Jews do not work or travel on Friday nights and Saturday before dark.

After the game, seeing [the student section] on the field is awesome. They make the wins feel so much better and the hard work even more rewarding.

Michael Dean ’23

The Fanatic also makes use of the term “beaters” when telling students to wear white tank tops to a game.

“I hope I never have to educate boys about why the term “wife beater” is intensely problematic in about 25 different ways,” Ms. Turlish said.

Yet when talking in-person, the Fanatic is reflective of his aggressiveness in the group chat.

“You know, I probably do come off very aggressive, just some of the stuff I say, some of the stuff I say in the group chat, which I understand,” the Fieldhouse Fanatic said. “Sometimes I’m just trying to be like the kids in the past, how they were texting in it, but then sometimes I’m super genuine, and I kind of give some of the facts of like what’s been going on, like how there’s only been eight teams in 125 years that have been undefeated in football.”

After talking with the Fanatic, it becomes clear that he does care about his community.

“I’m still working on getting a couple guys that are like freshmen, sophomores that aren’t as well-connected with the school and the community, trying to get their numbers to get in the group chat, just cause I want them to feel a sense of brotherhood, and the relationship with the kids in the school, so like, find more friends, find people that they can come do stuff with outside of school, and then inside of school for games. Stuff like that,” the Fanatic said.

The reason that the school didn’t try to change the name of the group and incorporate it as an official club goes back to Mr. Matt Green, former Head of Upper School. In 2009, Mr. Tryon brought up concerns over the name of the club to Mr. Green.

“I can remember hearing the name, and I talked to Matt Green after a Wednesday-morning faculty meeting, and I just voiced my sense that the name was not appropriate… and he kind of said, matter of factly—I think this is all he could say—is, ‘It’s a fact. It’s already out there. It’s got its name,’” Mr. Tryon said.

Student fan section cheers on water polo, November 2019 – Mr. Jim Roese

The administration currently ignores the Gentlemen’s Club because of its name, tacitly allowing an anonymous Sixth Former to have a virtual audience of 300 with no supervision. Rather than address the problem, ask the group to change the name, and assign it a faculty advisor, the upper school did nothing. Since this stance of doing nothing, shunning the group, hasn’t curtailed the proliferation of the phrase “Gentlemen’s Club,” on campus, I am left asking what good the upper’s school’s policy of ignoring the club has done.

Don’t get me wrong. The club itself has caused a lot of good. Mr. Tryon remembers going to his first basketball game as a faculty member in 2000 against Upper Darby.

“It was an away game and on a Friday, so I went to it. And I was like one of four people from Haverford there. I was so shocked. And also that there [was] such dismal support for the team, so what we have now is far, far better.”

If we could just get another name for it.

Ms. Hannah turlish

Current athletes really do appreciate the current support of the club.

“After the game, seeing [the student section] on the field is awesome. They make the wins feel so much better and the hard work even more rewarding. Even glancing up to the stands during the game is electric. It definitely fires me up to see the support of brotherhood in full effect,” fullback and linebacker Michael Dean wrote in an email.

Student leaders frequently use the club to communicate important details to students.

“I’ve used ‘Gent’s Club’ primarily to gain support, not for myself but for other sporting groups or in general. You know, we’ve talked about robotics…kids have been able to reach out in the ‘Gent’s Club’ for the musical in the past, they’ve been able to reach out for concerts, they’ve been able to reach out for pretty much anything that’s necessary, any school events, any club events. So it’s really an opportunity for everybody to support each other and share each other’s experiences,” Sekulic said. 

Ms. Turlish may have summarized it best: 

“Just like any group of teenagers using social media, it can become a Wild West that I think is problematic,” she said.

Just like the actual Wild West, law and order can be established. The phrase, which hurts many, will die out from the school lexicon if the name changed and became an official club, with an official Sixth Form leader and a faculty advisor. 

“I think if it were always just this group of guys screaming at the top of their lungs, I would have no problem. If we could just get another name for it,” Ms. Turlish said.

Author: Joey Kauffman '23

Joseph Kauffman is an Editor-In-Chief for The Index, a position he assumed in May 2022. He previously served as a Managing Editor, where he won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for his opinion piece “Start Language Learning in Lower School.” His review of the movie "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" also earned him second place in the Pennsylvania Press Club Annual High School Journalism Contest.