School spirit doesn’t happen by accident.
Whether it is a new school or an existing school, having a positive school climate and school spirit is something that has to be nurtured, maintained, and monitored. I truly believe that: it certainly does not happen by accident, and it often takes a fair amount of work too. Independence High School is no different. Over the past year, we spent a lot of time talking to students about traditions and ideas and what they wanted out of Independence; we did a variety of things to cultivate spirit and spread enthusiasm for the school over the course of that year, and it was obvious when we hosted Independence Day and then again on the first day of school that students and the community were excited for Independence!
It was so great and so powerful to see this.
On those two days, students and parents took pictures and selfies around the building, and everyone commented on the vibe of the school and the different pieces that had been installed that both reflected and inspired school spirit. The school store was jam-packed to the point that it was uncomfortable inside of it—not to mentioned how warm it was—and the shelves were bare afterwards. The halls were brimming with smiles, and the painted parking spaces that greeted everyone were such strong, positive indicators of our school spirit for all to see. But as great as it was to see this and to be a part of it, I didn’t realize at the time that this was just the beginning of how positive the climate and culture was at Independence. I mistakenly assumed that it was simply just “new school excitement;” I couldn’t be happier to offer to you how wrong I was, that this feeling was bigger than I had originally thought.
To be honest, I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was that I realized that school spirit was larger than I had thought, but I can offer some striking moments which speak to the positive climate that has taken root at Independence. The first instance that struck me was our home volleyball game against Rock Ridge. Volleyball had already secured its first win the previous night which was amazing to see, but a game against the school that was alleviated is certain to create additional buzz. And so what was amazing was not that we had a full student section to cheer on our team (which we did), but that our student section was engaged and spirited the whole night. No one had taught them cheers. Rather, there were some students who took the initiative to lead cheers and the crowd enthusiastically responded! And while a crosstown rivalry has the potential to possibly bring out the worst in fans, it was so heartwarming to see that this was not the case with our students. No one needed to reprimand or warn the student section; they remained positive the entire game. And when we won the final set, our students happily hugged their former peers from Rock Ridge. School spirit and sportsmanship in our second ever home contest? I could not believe what I had seen, but I was also so glad to be a part of it.
And then the next most obvious instance was our first home varsity football game. I am confident that the images of students decked out in red, white, and blue in the student section complemented by the band and the defeaning cheers is not emblazoned in my brain only. Students were spirited and stayed until the final down, supporting the team. The bleachers swayed as they chanted cheers that I had heard at the volleyball game, but then there were also new ones which students enthusiastically got into. And in talking with the student after the game who had led one of the cheers, he simply shrugged said he ad-libbed it. And if you happened to miss this organic moment, it was Sam Johnson covered in blue paint who led the entire section in the “Go Tigers, Go Tigers, Go!” cheer; in fact, he did such a spirited job with it that I invited him to guest lead the same cheer at the pep rally on September 13.
And speaking of the pep rally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the school spirit that radiated during its 60 minutes! I had teachers who told me later that they have been in different schools in the county prior to coming to Independence and that they had not seen a pep rally like that before. And while a lot of that credit goes to the Student Council Association (and our sponsor Mr. Ellis), it also reflects the hard work that our class sponsors (Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Zerkle, Mrs. Andrews, Mrs. Carr, Mrs. Preston, and Mrs. Sibley) put into prepping their grades for it. But perhaps more importantly, it is a direct reflection of the leadership of our two student-emcees, Charlie Joyce and Carson Manternach. They led the event with the poise and expertise of seasoned veterans and almost singlehandedly ensured that it would be a positive experience for our school.
And finally, at our football game last week, this same school spirit and sportsmanship was on full display for our community. I was incredulous when our student section knew the words to the cheer team chanting “Rock with the red and roll with the blue” and even was able to do the hand signals to a cheer as well! And please understand that this is not a case of having low expectations: these kinds of displays a handful of days into a new school is just unheard of. Anyway, just when it seemed we were poised to win our first varsity football game, we lost in devastating fashion with 9 seconds left in the game. Understandably disappointed, our student section handled their upset admirably though. Moreover, our team did as well. And I point this out because our team, probably more so than the fans, at the time, understood that there was an issue with the clock being kept in the press box. Nearly 20 seconds were not accounted for during the final moments of the game—an eternity in already close game. And while the team certainly made mistakes in the quarters prior, it would be easy for the players to pitch a fit about how the clock was handled in the closing moments of the game. They did not. They let the coaches and administrators handle it. This was another show of how a new school handled itself with the poise of an established school. It didn’t make the loss any easier for me to swallow—or for our fans or team for that matter—but it certainly made me proud of our students.
The thing is this: our students are students. They will make mistakes, they are not perfect. Just like when we were in school. But at the same time, it is important to praise people when they have done something well. And so in Independence’s brief existence, I have been so proud of how overall the students have carried themselves in the face of defeat, in the joy of victory, and in the spirit of pride. So perhaps I was wrong when I said that spirit doesn’t happen by accident; we didn’t teach them how to be spirited, how to be proud of their school, but yet here students are vociferously and fiercely supporting and defending their school. So while there is work that goes into cultivating spirit, maybe once initial seeds are planted, spirit germinates and organically grows in ways we don’t anticipate or predict. As such, I am proud of what we’ve experienced in a few days’ time and hope you are as well.