High school basketball video shows power of social media (w/video)

Michael Christenson of Yakima said he was only trying to illustrate a point to a small group of Highland High School students and parents about the need for better basketball officials.

To his surprise and dismay, however, the video he uploaded of several hard fouls during the Cowiche school's boys game at Connell on Dec. 22 has gone viral, collecting more than 25,000 hits since the video was posted on YouTube on Dec. 28.

The video, which is just over 5 minutes long, showcases two imposing Connell players -- seniors Cole Vanderbilt and Kennan VanHollebeke -- committing six personal fouls during a 38-37 home win over the Scots.

Because of the physical nature of the fouls, particularly those committed by Vanderbilt, the video, "Flagrant foul no-calls Highland @ Connell 12/22/11," has drawn considerable attention. Several of the 87 comments are negative, even cruel, in nature.

"(No.) 34 (Vanderbilt) should be a wrestler. Totally unacceptable," wrote one poster.

"(No.) 34 looks like a football player. He doesn't seem to be any asset to the team other than to beat down players on the other team," wrote another.

Vanderbilt, at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, and VanHollebeke, at 6-4, 235, both played offensive and defensive line on the Eagles' 1A state-championship football team in the fall. Both are listed as centers on the basketball team.

After Christenson uploaded the video to Facebook, he transferred it to YouTube. A day later, it was picked up by guyism.com and posted under the heading, "VIDEO: The dirtiest basketball player in America."

That couldn't be any further from the truth, according to Vanderbilt's grandmother, Karen Vanderbilt of Connell.

"He's a nice, young student in high school," she said of her grandson, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Vanderbilt has taken the negative attention to heart, but his team has rallied to support him, said Connell coach Oscar Garza.

"He's a tough kid, but those that know him know he's a teddy bear," Garza said. "My 7-year-old son loves him and lights up when he's around. But on (YouTube) he's the world's meanest, ugliest kid. It's not fair, but I just want him to know his teammates and coaches are behind him."

The role of social media in high school sports is a complicated one, and there is little control over who can post what on the internet and where the information goes from there.

"Everybody has the right to their opinion. Not everybody thinks about all the consequences about what their actions will be," Eagles' Athletic Director Steve Frucci said. "It goes to show what can happen in today's day and age. Whoever can afford that technology can do anything they want."

Christenson, 32, said that his intention was not for the video to go much further than the small community outside Yakima that surrounds the basketball program. His nephew, Tanner Christenson, plays guard for the Scots.

After posting it online so Highland players could see it, he said he could no longer control the direction in which the video would head.

"Thinking about it now, I maybe could have contacted the WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) first, but I wasn't expecting this," he said. "It wasn't my intention to single (Vanderbilt) out. If you look closely at my video, his name is never mentioned. What I wanted to single out was the officiating. If they do their jobs, there are no hard fouls and no video."

David Pierce, a 30-year veteran of the Tri-Cities Sports Officials Association, took issue with Christenson's contention, saying the referees did their job during the game.

"There were no problems and no fights. It's getting painted as flagrant fouls or intentional fouls, but it doesn't have anything to do with that," Pierce said. "The guy took a camera and jaded it. He didn't show the whole game. He showed six plays."

Garza said the game was a physical one that pushed some boundaries as far as trash talking, and his players responded. He said each of the fouls occurred in the game's first 10 minutes, but the game settled down from there.

"There was a lot of heckling going on. After the first 10 minutes, Kennan had two fouls and Colt had three. I took them out and calmed them down," he said. "They played just as hard in the second half and only had one foul."