Vandalism hits WJ and local rival school


Sam Falb, Online News Editor

When students came to school on January 30, they were greeted with a new addition to the front of WJ’s stadium. A vandal, now identified as a Churchill High School student, spray painted crude phrases on the pull down windows of the concession stand, as well as the brick walls of the ticket booth near the entrance to the stadium complex. WJ students retaliated soon after at Churchill, spray painting over signs and in the dugouts on the school’s grounds.

This occurrence is the latest in a series of stunts pulled by WJ and Churchill students alike, sparked by a fierce sports rivalry stretching years back into the schools’ histories.

“The extent of the damage in both school stadiums, mostly caused by spray paint, is quite extensive. Both school administrations are working very closely with the Montgomery County Police Department, the MCPS Department of School Safety and Security and community members to determine who is responsible for these egregious and serious crimes,” WJ principal Jennifer Baker said in an email to staff.

Baker, who has maintained principalship at both Tilden Middle School and WJ, has very rarely seen such acts performed by students of “rival” schools, citing the large-scale absence of such behavior at WJ in bathrooms, hallways and other public areas.

“I was very shocked and disappointed that this was happening. It really surprised me,” she said.

The vandals themselves focused solely on their targets’ stadiums with their graffiti. WJ’s stadium complex was marked with spray paint on the concession stand’s pull down shutters, the wall next to the stand, the menu casing and a Wildcats sign, with an approximate $1,000 price tag estimated on returning these features to their original condition.

Churchill, on the other hand, received spray paint on every outside door of their stadium complex, on a bronze dedication plaque, areas around the concession stand including pull down shutters, a large banner, pads around the goal posts and areas in the dugouts, adding up to about $15,000 worth in damages as assessed thus far.

“I don’t have any doubt, while it may not be tomorrow, that they’ll figure out who did it. It’s just that sometimes these things take some time, but eventually it’ll all come out,” WJ Security Team Head Howard Beaubien said.

Punishment of students involved will depend on the gravity of each individual’s part in the process. Vandalism of public property, defined as “malicious destruction” by Maryland laws, is a felony, and can result in imprisonment for up to three years with possible fines of $2,500. Suspension and recommendation for expulsion will also be on the table.

“I think every school has their main opponent that they get geared up for and I think that can be healthy, fun, bring bigger crowds and frankly a lot of spirit. But when you get past that tipping point where you’re hurting each other and you’re hurting each other’s schools, then it becomes a very serious safety issue,” Baker said.

In response to last week’s events, a Montgomery County detective has begun work on identifying possible suspects, and the Montgomery County police officers assigned at both Walter Johnson and Churchill have maintained contact.

The WJ Booster Club will be replacing a Founding Farmers sign that was painted over at the time, and both schools will further assess damages and potential costs for replacement of property. Sand-blasters, high-power tools used to remove all traces of paint from surfaces, will also be used to remove the paint from the areas and signage affected by the vandals’ work.