Column: To call a flagrant: When human lens make a basketball game viral

Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer


“Someone is going to be injured,” Michael Christenson typed into the opening message of his first YouTube submission under the subscriber name “wazzumichael.” That’s the line we need to remember, because it tells us that the stakes are high and that what we decide is very, very crucial.

Christenson was there inside the gym of Connell High School in the town of Connell, Wash. for a boys' basketball game Dec. 22, for just a local teenage tipoff on a Tuesday night. The Connell Eagles were hosting the Highland High Scots. Christenson’s nephew was a Scot.

Christenson was wielding a camera that evening so we all could see what he saw. The power was in Christenson’s hands.

Now we are part of his 6 million-plus viewership, and we saw the six peppery flagrant fouls committed by those Connell ”basketball” players. They were revealed to us in order, replayed at least three times in slow motion.

“'Someone is going to be injured.' That’s the line we need to remember, because it tells us that the stakes are high and that what we decide is very, very crucial."

We saw No. 34. That was Cole Vanderbilt, a big-bellied Connell senior with sideburns, a goatee and a jersey a size too small.

We saw No. 42. That was Kennan VanHollebeke, all 6 feet, 4 inches of him, wearing a white headband, a senior comrade of Vanderbilt who also plays on the football and baseball teams.

  • Flagrant Foul No. 1: A Scot leaps for a jumper mid-lane when he’s sent crashing to the hardwood after Vanderbilt’s bulky right arm whacks him.

  • Flagrant Foul No. 2: After an opposing Scot snagged a rebound, VanHollebeke wraps his arms around him and whips him out of bounds. It looked as if VanHollebeke thought he was back on the gridiron. Apparently the ref did too when he signaled a “holding” call to the score booth.

  • Flagrant Foul No. 3: Another arm strike from Vanderbilt.

  • Flagrant Foul No. 4: A hard shove behind the back from VanHollebeke.

  • Flagrant Foul No. 5: Vanderbilt clotheslines a Scot heading up for a layup (another “hold” call).

  • Flagrant Foul No. 6: Vanderbilt throws a Scot down after getting outrebounded.

Shall we stand idly with the refs? No; Michael Christenson wants us to do something.


Sometimes we take for granted the simplicity of the camera’s function. Anyone can use the device. Turn it on and point, and you and I can capture anything so remarkable or so baffling. is a friendly platform, welcoming the anonymous submitter that just happened to come across something worthy of visual attention, perhaps even inside an unassuming high school gym. You and I could have YouTube’s most-watched video of the week.

Sometimes man is paid to be a cameraman, to take a place behind baselines or end zones or home plates with the machine as his steed. Those are the people that provide the angles that get transported to our living rooms.

From the lens we are introduced to the likes of Tim Tebow, figures that make us admire and cheer and, at the same time, detest and scoff.

We are brought down to floor level with 9.4 seconds left of the game, when rival schools in Cincinnati stop play in favor of a brawl, when the reputation of a potential NBA lottery pick is forever blemished for proudly leading “a tougher team” of “grown men” with “gangsters in the locker room.”

Sometimes we just want the camera to tell us the story because that is what's convenient for us. Yes, we want the camera to be our guide as we keep up with things like the Kardashians.

It makes it so easy for us to hate Kris Humphries, the man, the NBA’s most hated player, according to a recent Forbes Magazine poll, who had Wizards fans relentlessly jeering when he played in their building on Christmas. “I don’t even know if they know why they’re booing,” his coach, Avery Johnson, told reporters after the game.


Sometimes, it’s true. We don’t know the reason behind the sound of disapproval. We just know that we can sit behind technology and allow it to show us a pair of high school kids wrongly abuse their opponents on the basketball court. When it’s all over, we can go tell our friends to type in “no call flagrant fouls” into a search engine.

We can be like one YouTube subscriber, “cfromcass,” and comment under the video, “I think this bully should be prosecuted with a maximum sentence. He is not a kid but a criminal so he can go to hell. That is all he will bring to this world.”

We’ll go ahead and ignore the comment from “washingtonchavez,” who writes, “…it's disappointing that No. 34 keeps getting threats. I know Cole personally and he's a great guy, he does not deserve to all this hatred.”

"Sometimes we just want the camera to tell us the story because that is what's convenient for us. We want the camera to be our guide."

We’ll overlook what Cole’s coach, Oscar Garza, told the Tri-City Herald, that actually the kid’s a real nice kid, someone that makes Garza's “seven-year-old son light up.”

We'll overhear a discussion on CNN, in which a panel talked with disgust of the video and we’ll want our views to match those of the experts. So we’ll go and “like” the Facebook page, “Cole Vanderbilt & Kennan VanHollebeke – Dirtiest Players.”

We’ll go in search for Cole Vanderbilt in hopes of leaving him a personal message ourselves, rather than one on a fan page. And when we find that the results yield none, when we come to realize that the viral Cole Vanderbilt clearly must have removed himself from contacts of the virtual universe, we’ll search for his crony, that VanHollebeke kid, and there he is.

We’ll see that VanHollebeke’s relationship status changed from “single” to “in a relationship” this past Sunday; that he won a football state championship, and he’s with the trophy in his profile picture; that a memorable senior year is likely.

We’ll send him a message, as I helplessly did, asking him about that night, about what he was thinking and why he was playing that way and about his teammate, Cole. Tell me who you guys are.


But we’ll realize that the kid cannot explain himself. Maybe one day we’ll read about the two high school punks who dared to bully their foes on the court and became Internet sensations overnight, and then we’ll have an idea. But, for now, their legacies to us are sealed. No response arrives.

Sometimes the answers don’t come. Sometimes we are left to ponder and are forced to judge from a look at the image provided. We don’t bother with time, so we are quick with our decisions, like good referees. Sometimes we don’t see that the black and white stripes cover us all and that the real flagrance is done when we must make our own call.

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