By Dale Hierlmeier
"We’ve got spirit, yes we do; we’ve got spirit, how about you?” Call it “old school,” but this classic school spirit cheerleading mantra delivers a 21ST century interactive theme, challenging the opposition and sure to draw a roar from the opponent’s cheering section.
Why do certain high schools appear to have great athletic school spirit, and what are some ways to be true to your school through increased school spirit?
Just as school corporations display a mission statement, schools can make a visible impact by posting a Spirit Statement. Spirit and sportsmanship statements can be included in event programs, or they can be displayed strategically throughout the school, gymnasium or field house.
SPIRIT CITIZENRY COMMITTEE
Form a Spirit Citizenry Committee consisting of the cheer coach and a male and female representative from each of the following categories: cheerleaders, athletes, student-body and parents. The aim of the committee is to establish an agenda of ideas to facilitate a school spirit plan.
STUDENT GOVERNMENT SPIRIT
Involve Student Government to spearhead a campaign to revitalize school spirit. This is a great project for those who are responsible for student body direction. Yearlong or multi-seasonal student spirit competition between classes based on athletic contest attendance and a coveted reward launches a spirit-filled year of athletics.
A spring or fall Saturday spirit cookout and social gathering is an opportunity to promote school spirit and a chance for athletes to kindle lasting friendships year after year. The cookout could be held after a track and field meet and might involve home and away teams, coaches, bus drivers, trainers, officials and parents.
The captain(s) of the home team can present a spirit-sportsmanship t-shirt or certificate of achievement to a player on the opposing team who displays a combination of school spirit and sportsmanship. The officials or a panel of home judges, who may be student government leaders, parents or junior varsity team members, may determine the recipient.
SPIRIT CHEER CAMP
Hosting a one-day cheer camp for grades one through five is a spirit-raising campaign designed to improve school spirit by learning cheerleading skills and teaching cheer mechanics.
SPIRIT CHRISTMAS TREE DECORATION
Hosting a Christmas tree decoration contest among classes, clubs, teams or departments spreads enthusiasm and involves large segments of the school population. A tree carrying a cheer theme decorated by the cheerleaders or a tree decorated by a world language club in the Christmas tradition of the country are possible ideas.
Awarding a spirit seat cushion to an adult patron at selected home contests and allowing free admission for that patron to the remaining athletic events for the season or school year is a sure way to raise spirit levels. Each year the color or design of the cushion would change. Hosting a spirit dinner near the end of the school year for all cushion recipients is an option along with featuring a guest speaker to reinforce the spirit-sportsmanship theme.
SPIRIT WINDOW DECORATION
Starting a town window-decorating contest, as tournament time approaches, involves and builds school-community spirit. Windows can be painted and adorned in school colors by cheerleaders, an appointed student decoration committee or by the host establishments.
Announcing a special spirit week preceding championship or tournament competition is a traditional week of fun activities, including theme days, school color days, parade and float competition or other local traditions.
Designing a school spirit flag containing school colors, logo and wording to fly at assigned times of the year or when exceptional school spirit is evident is a public display of spirit promotion and encouragement.
POSITIVE SPIRIT CHEERS
School spirit leadership can be encouraged by the cheerleading team. Cheer squad education to perform cheers, yells and chants that are spirit-enhancing and positive displays of sportsmanship are imperative. Avoiding cheers designed directly to torment, ridicule or incite opponent spectators, players and officials or aimed at provoking a negative response are unsportsmanlike and therefore diminishes the mission of wholesome spiriting.
Student participation in co-curricular activities forms a basis of support in the promotion of school spirit. The student who joins a school-sponsored athletic team, club, academic team, governmental organization or volunteer service group has already begun the spirit bonding process and contributes to improved school spirit. Schools, with as much as 75 percent of the student body involved in co-curricular activities, have a solid foothold on spirit development, and maintenance and fine-tuning are all that is required.
Sportsmanship is embedded deep in the foundation of school spirit. Removing sportsmanship from the vision of school spirit leaves the mission of school spirit unfocused and wandering aimlessly.
Spirit is an inanimate object that cannot be purchased, wrapped and given away as a gift, but rather occurs or develops naturally, as an instilled byproduct of authentic, genuine and spontaneous participation and involvement. Spirit requires individual commitment, leading to a cumulative effect to the finished product. Just as a medical or athletic team relies on the collective production of individually skilled squad members for optimal team performance, successful school-wide spirit counts on the contributions of all school constituents and community citizenry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dale Hierlmeier, RAA, teaches nutrition at Ancilla College, Donaldson, Indiana. He is a former athletic director at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Indiana, and Saint Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Indiana. He is a 30-year veteran of the teaching and coaching professions, is currently officiating track and swimming and is a freelance writer.