Raising Our Spirits: Finding Ways to Celebrate South

By Cara Becker and Celine Macura

Soccer Spirit—Seniors Jacob Neiderman and Jonathan Farkas of the boys varsity soccer team walk under  the orange and blue balloon banner at the annual pep rally to promote active school participation. Photo by Winston Gao
Soccer Spirit—Seniors Jacob Neiderman and Jonathan Farkas of the boys varsity soccer team walk under the orange and blue balloon banner at the annual pep rally to promote active school participation.

Photo by Winston Gao

Football. Friends. Fun. Food. These are some of the elements that come to mind when you think of a traditional high school Homecoming event. In movies, the high energy and camaraderie carry tremendous importance, linking the assorted interests of students. Heaps of people donning school colors line the field representing unwavering school pride that will not fade with time.
This has not been the picture of Homecoming at South, however. In recent years, rather than eagerly anticipating Pep Rally, students look forward to shortened periods. Rather than cheering for the sports teams as they enter the gym, students clap halfheartedly and look at their phones. And rather than encouraging the football team at Saturday’s homecoming game, many students opt to stay home and study for the SAT.
In an attempt to improve school spirit in 2006, the Boys’ Athletic Association (BAA) hosted an outdoor carnival, complete with inflatable slides, carnival games, and widespread club participation. The event was elimated in 2012 after experiencing a years of rain dates and cancellations. “Finally that was it,” said Mr. Dennis Mooney, co-advisor of the BAA.
During their senior year, the Class of 2014 had the idea to combine the outdoor carnival with a homecoming dance. The Key Club made this idea a reality. They took over and first ran this event in October 2013. “They put the games in the back of the gym, got a couple of bouncy houses, and brought a DJ in,” said Mr. Mooney.
Though the first year was relatively successful, attendance steadily declined over the next few years. Last year Key Club attempted to encourage participation through the theme “Think Pink,” which inspired both the decorations and the donations but unfortunately did not inspire students to attend. Because of insufficient ticket sales, the club itself did not directly receive any revenue and minimal donations were sent to the charity, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Matthew Portnoy, Key Club Co-President, explained that this caused a major problem: It was no longer fiscally sound for Key Club to continue sponsoring the event. So it was cancelled.
The already tepid Homecoming spirit also floundered this year because there was no varsity football team to play in the traditional Saturday afternoon game. Instead, the homecoming game was a boys’ soccer game on Thursday, Oct. 13. Admission was free to all attendees, but still, only a sparse crowd made their way down to the field.
The evidence does seem to point overwhelmingly to one conclusion: South has no spirit. Members of the school community have been lamenting the perceived lack of school spirit for years. But if this is true, then why do so many people say they are proud to attend South High?
Although at times stands are empty at sporting events, academic club participation continues to grow. As a result, Shared Decision Making, the committee that includes students, parents, and teachers, is attempting to redefine school spirit by creating events that will interest a wider range of students.
According to Mr. Bradley Krauz, co-chair of Shared Decision Making, one of the committee’s most important goals is changing the current perception that school spirit must revolve around athletics. “We looked at different events that already took place in the school and were vetting different suggestions to try and work on what was labeled as homecoming,” he said. Eventually, the committee decided to begin by expanding Pep Rally.
Hosted in the East Gym on Oct. 14, Pep Rally included the addition of club participation as well as the usual sports team praise. Key Club, DECA, and Art Club held a small club fair right outside of the gym to generate school spirit and raise money. Students were able to purchase baked goods and receive mementos like temporary tattoos. Faculty members also participated in a faculty volleyball game after school.
Shared Decision Making doesn’t plan to stop here, however. According to Co-Chair Ms. Michelle Sorise, school spirit is so much more than simply attending a sporting event. “Something that the students, parents, and teachers see is that a lot of people come to school feeling like they’re going through a process, and all of us feel that school should be more of an investment socially and emotionally.” She expressed the importance of school relationships and suggested that by investing more in school communities, South would be a better, happier, and more spirited place. “You can have pride in the school in lots of different ways,” said Ms.Sorise. “You don’t have to be an athlete.” South students’ passions, interests, extracurriculars, and academic pursuits all contribute to school spirit.
Shared Decision Making recognizes that it is difficult for students to stay after school for events. Going forward, the committee hopes to improve attendance by hosting events during the day. For next year, they are considering a school-wide party involving a variety of clubs and activities. The committee’s ultimate goal is to shift student perceptions of school spirit from being exclusively associated with athletics to the broader feeling of being a proud and integral member of the school community.