When Eastern Junior High met Sligo Junior High for a soccer match two weeks ago, the Eastern Eagles played with a real zeal previously unseen in a dismal season, and crushed their much larger crosstown rivals by a score of 5 to 2.
It was a victory made infinitely sweeter by the fact that the Montgomery County Board of Education, only one week earlier, had decided to consider closing Eastern instead of Sligo. "It seemed," noted eighth-greader Larry Parci, who watched the match from the sidelines, "like people were scoring to keep Eastern open."
For most of this school year, the Silver Spring communities that send children to Eastern on University Boulevard and Sligo just three miles away on Dennis Avenue have been pitted against each other in a contest of far greater importance than a soccer match.
These two junior highs have found themselves on the "hit list" of 11 county schools recommended for closing as the school board tries to adjust to shrinking enrollments. And, in the desperate competition to stay alive, Sligo partisans see the demise of Eastern as their salvation, and vice versa. s
The struggle has become a test of school spirit, and it has been less than friendly.
Two weeks age, more than 300 Sligo supporters thundered into a school board session in Rockville and heatedly demanded that their school be saved. If a junior high had to be closed, they said, make it Eastern, a school with a smaller enrollment and fewer special programs.
The sentiments of the Eastern community finally surged to the fore Tuesday night at a clamorous pep rally staged to generate enthusiasm and get a large turnout set for the school's hearing before the board of education Dec. 3.
More than 500 people packed the gym. A parade of indignant speakers, helped by blasts of drums and brass from the school band, whipped the crowd into a Keep Eastern Open frenzy.
"They [school board members] think Eastern is the path of least resistance," cried PTA member Billie Cirrincione. "That's not going to be the case this time. If they live by the politics they have to die by politics."
County Council member Rose Crenca, who lives two blocks from Eastern, said after she finished her speech: "I had an intelligent speech but this was not the place to give it."
The key to Eastern's defense is the $3.4 million renovation completed at the school in 1976. Conversely, rival Sligo's principal liability is the 20 year old school's relative disrepair.
"This is not the most pleasant situation," said Eastern Junior High PTA President Eugene Sadick, seeking, like most of the parents in the community, to play down the resentment felt by some toward Sligo, "The school board has forced communities to fight against each other. It's a shame the animosity has to enter the lives of the kids."
Part of that animosity springs from a widespread suspicion that had Sligo not mounted its very considerable campaign to save itself, Eastern never would have been forced into a defensive position.
"It's clear to me," said Suzanne Rodenbaud of the Oakview Elementary PTA, one of the four schools that feed into Eastern. "With the pressure Sligo put on, the board figured Eastern would be the easiest on to close."
Many Eastern suporters were upset that the board added Eastern to the "hit list" at the last minute and thus gave them little time to mobilize. It is a measure of the ways things get turned upside down in the emotional business of school closings that one woman, shouldering a placard that said Keep Eastern Open Now and Forever, jealously complained that "Sligo's had three years to organize."
The signs of envy and revenge appear in many forms.
PTA member Cirrincione signed a group letter to the board last week that said the Eastern community would urge the Maryland state agency that funds school renovation projects in the county to cut off money for future projects if Eastern is closed.
Eastern supporters have planned one last effort. At their hearing Monday, just two days before the school board is scheduled to make its final decision on school closings, some Eastern students will run a marathon from the school to the board hearing room 12 miles away in Rockville. They are supposed to arrive just as Eastern's final pleading begins, carrying petitions from the community.
The track coach said the run was just for a fit elite on the junior high's cross country team, but parents were so fired up last week that a few of them wanted to jog along.