Zeeland showcases unique rivalry with ‘Bird Bowl’

Football Frenzy

ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — When the Zeeland East Chix host the Zeeland West Dux on Friday night, a unique but intense rivalry will be on display.

The student fans on opposite sides of the field also sit in class together during the day. There is only one marching band for both schools. The band learns two fight songs and runs from one side of the field to the other to play both songs on rivalry night.

These rivals are classmates, teammates and friends. 

“We don’t even know who goes to what school sometimes. It’s kind of interesting to be like, ‘Oh, we’re just all together,'” Peyton Elenbaas, a senior at Zeeland West, said.

Elenbaas is on the swim team, which is made up of a combination of East and West students. Her teammate, Karinda Meeuwsen, goes to East. Meeuwsen is a good example of how unique the set-up is between the two schools.

Rival friends from Zeeland East and West. (Oct. 2019)

There is an eight-minute break in between classes — a little longer than most schools. That’s intended to give students enough time to walk the pathway that connects both buildings, which is about 800 feet.

Students at Zeeland East and West commuting to class. (Oct. 2019)

Meeuwsen starts her day at West then walks the path over to East for second and third hour. She eats lunch back at West before fourth hour, heads back over to East for fifth and sixth hour, then returns to West for swim practice.

Most mornings by 9:30 a.m., she already has more than 4,000 steps on her Fitbit.

“As a freshman, it was kind of stressful because you’re like, ‘eight minutes? I don’t know if I can make it.’ Once you get used to it, it’s just something you do every day,” she said. 

When the original high school was split between 2002 and 2005, the plan was for West to house grades nine and 10 and for East to be for juniors and seniors, but after meetings with the public, the two high school system won out. 

Though the competition between East and West is strong, the schools function as one entity during the day, complementing each other. It’s truly one academic program.

Many of the classes and teams are combined, like the dance program and wood shop. East has a performance theater, but all the engineering classrooms are at West. That’s why students go back and forth so much throughout the day.

“You get to interact with a lot of people, which makes like a big community feeling,” Meeuwsen said, describing the commute to classes and sports like swim.

She and her teammates agree that though it’s fun to cheer for their own teams, “at the end, it doesn’t really matter who wins because we’re like one school,” Meeuwswn said.

Even the quarterbacks from the opposing teams get along, though that may be because they’ve been friends for so long.

Ethan Houghtaling and Carson Gulker have known each other since they were in elementary school and have a close bond. They’re in the unique situation of sitting in class on Fridays, wearing their jerseys and seeing the competition across the room.

Rival quarterbacks and close friends from Zeeland East and West. (Oct. 2019)

“It is kind of weird to look over and think, ‘That guy might tackle me,’” Houghtaling said. “There’s a good and bad side to the competition. It adds more fuel to the fire and stuff so we’re with each other all the time, but then, for that one day, we get to show who’s better.”

Neither he nor Gulker were willing to say who they think is better, other than, “I guess we’ll find out!”

The situation may be just as unique for the unity it has created.

“I think it’s literally the whole community out there. It’s not just East or West, you get all of Zeeland. Whether they’re cheering for you or against you, it’s loud and it’s fun,” Gulker said.

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