Written by Shawna Chen
On Feb. 20, the Gunn community gathered in the Titan Gym to watch the senior class face off against staff members in Clash of the Titans. Titan Gym thundered with energy and excitement as the players took their places on the court. Staff members on the bleachers held up signs of support for their colleagues as the crowd of students hooted and cheered for their own. The staff has held the title as champion of Clash of the Titans for the last four consecutive years. This year, however, they came close to losing it as the seniors trailed by only three points when the buzzer sounded.
Senior sports commissioner Jeffrey Lei began preparing for the event in early Jan., collecting names of participants and holding practices every other day on the outside courts or the inside gym. “This year, I really wanted us to win, so I organized a lot of practices and made it so that players were playing their best,” Lei said. “We tried to organize, ran a couple plays [and] tried to get things going.”
Most of the practices involved running a few drills and then playing five-on-five basketball games. “The drills that we did were basic so that you can actually play the game,” senior Victor Kao said. “But we mostly played pickup games to get the feel of the game.” Kao himself used to play basketball in middle school, and enjoyed the thrill of being back on the court. “Back then, I was four-six and sixty pounds, and that was pretty hard for me,” he said. “Now I’m taller and I haven’t played in a really long time, so playing with people you know was really fun.”
The staff basketball team held multiple practices in the morning and after school as well, with social studies teacher Chris Saunders echoing Kao’s sentiment about feeling comfortable on the court. “Not all of us play too much basketball, so it was important just to get out,” Saunders said. “We certainly wanted to make sure that everyone played and that everyone felt that they were contributing.” While the staff certainly wanted a victory, the team focused on having a good time more than anything else. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get together as a school and do something between the staff and the students, which we don’t really always get,” Saunders said.
Senior varsity basketball team members also participated as coaches for the students. Every practice, they would talk through strategies and specify what they wanted students to focus on for the day. “We’d go over whether we wanted to do lay-ups today or have them play and just mix up our game plan each day so that people could get better at little things,” senior Paige Ogawa said. “Then, we’d just have scrimmages so they could practice everything.”
For Ogawa, working with the varsity boys’ basketball team members was an additional highlight. “It was fun camaraderie, especially since the guys are kind of macho, but we all had different perspectives on basketball, and it was cool to integrate our perspective with their perspective,” Ogawa said. “I think it really showed in the game, the diversity of our knowledge.”
After the first few practices, Ogawa, along with Lei, and other coaches began testing the chemistry of different teams on the court. “Through the practices, we’d see who worked well with who and just started putting together teams based on that,” Ogawa said. “When it came to the game, we started putting in rotations based on who the teachers played.”
The biggest change to this year’s Clash of the Titans was the addition of six minutes of gametime dedicated solely to female teams. According to Lei, a few senior girls had approached him and stated their slight anxiety in playing with male teams. “When you’re playing with guys and you have people that big like Saunders, the girls don’t get to do much,” Lei said. “They wanted to be able to play, so the girls’ time was dedicated just for them, and they got about as much playing time as the other teams.”
When game day arrived, the enormity of the event and its spectators caused some seniors like Kao to experience nervousness. “The four minutes I was in, there was a bit of pressure for me, because I wanted to win, of course, and there were a lot of people watching,” he said. Kao, who hasn’t played a game with an audience since middle school, believed that both sides experienced some level of unease. “I think the teachers and the students out there felt the same because there were a lot of turnovers in the four minutes I was in [and a] pretty intense struggle back and forth,” he said. “We each scored only one basket during that time, but I usually don’t do anything with that many people watching, so that was an interesting experience.”
Right off the bat, Saunders noticed the aggression of this year’s student participants. “They knew what they wanted to do and they did a pretty good job at it,” he said. “It was a low-scoring game, both sides were playing good defense but making it difficult to operate on offense.”
As coach, Ogawa watched from the sidelines and felt a surge of pride for her fellow seniors. “My favorite moment was just seeing these people that don’t play and don’t usually put themselves out there go in and play hard and have fun,” she said. “Just seeing them smiling and laughing and playing around and smack-talking teachers, it was awesome seeing them have fun.”
In the last few minutes of the game, the staff was leading by nine points, but the highlight reel began when senior Guy Kasznik took to the court and started hitting three-point shots, causing the crowd to roar. “Guy just ran up and hit those two three’s, brought us in another six points,” Lei said. “He ran up for the last three and stopped my heart a little bit.”
Though staff dominated another year of Clash of the Titans, both staff and students enjoyed the competitive atmosphere and the experience of playing against one another. “This is the closest we’ve come to beating the teachers in the last five years,” Lei said. “It was a pretty heated game, and the goal was to win but a lot of it was also to have fun.”
Nonetheless, Kao warns next year’s seniors not to underestimate the teachers’ abilities. “Once [the teachers] got the huge squad out, they’re all so much taller and bigger,” he said. “We thought we could win for sure, and we had a pretty good team this year, but the teachers are pretty intimidating, especially the big ones.”
Saunders, too, is looking forward to next year’s game. The energy and excitement surrounding the annual Clash of the Titans is always palpable, and he hopes that next year is no different. “Not every school does this, so I think we have a great tradition here that deserves to be celebrated,” he said. “I get goosebumps going out there. Pick-up basketball at the gym isn’t the same as coming out and having the whole school there.” Not only does the Clash of Titans give Gunn the chance to celebrate its students and staff, but it also represents a valuable opportunity to connect on a greater level.”It’s great how everyone involved takes this so seriously,” Saunders said. “Having the student body out there just provides another thing for us to bond the community.”