So if a bleacherful of students in purple T-shirts yells, “We’ve got spirit, how about you?” and nobody answers, is it still a spirit game?
You bet your chicken. Or your shoes. Whatever.
This, at least, is the position being taken at Rogers High School, where on Friday night the Pirates will attempt to pull off one of these midwinter decibelpaloozas with one student body doing the work of two.
“It doesn’t have to be a competition,” reasoned senior ASB vice president Dayle Boren. “But it’s a really big thing for our school, and it’s worth doing.”
The competition will have to be limited to basketball. The Pirates will welcome – and we mean welcome – Gonzaga Prep to the Carl Ellingsen Athletic Center for girls and boys games beginning at 5:30. But the sideshow – raucous, yet respectful – will be all Rogers.
If you have not experienced the eardrum-fragging phenomenon of a spirit game, then you’ve missed the Bloomsday and Hoopfest of high school life. In 1983, Lewis and Clark and Ferris launched the battle for the Rubber Chicken, wherein the two student bodies are judged by an independent panel on sportsmanship, creativity, participation, volume, adherence to the theme, poise and swimsuit. Or some of those things, anyway.
Soon enough, flattering imitations followed. Now we have tussles for shoes (groovy), a sneaker (stinky), a throne (golden), a pig (prairie) and a fish (generic). Most of the big schools hereabouts stage them. Just Wednesday night, even the two private 2B schools – Northwest Christian and St. George’s – formalized their relationship with the Battle for the Holy Grail, and it was probably too much to ask for the theme to have been a shrubbery or something else Pythonesque.
With the other four District 81 schools paired up, Rogers has been left to look elsewhere. For a few years, when the Greater Spokane League swelled to 14 schools, it was Cheney. Then the Blackhawks left the league, so Rogers partnered with East Valley. Now the Knights have reclassified down and resumed their treasured game with West Valley.
The thing was, the Pirates were pretty good at this spirit gig. They won the last three Gauntlet contests with EV.
“I’ve been at Rogers for 16 years,” said ASB advisor Karrie Docterman, who’s also a 1990 graduate, “and the sense of community at these games was unreal. It wasn’t just the students, but the parents and alumni that would come back. We went from selling 300 spirit packs, which is a lot for us to have at a game, to over 550 last year – we sold out. There was so much excitement – and pride, especially.”
So they cast about for a reasonable replacement, and thought they’d hit on one just down the street. But Gonzaga Prep decided to pass.
“Gonzaga Prep has a great relationship with Rogers,” said Principal Kevin Connell, S.J. “We just did not want anyone to perceive a rivalry or create even the potential of a negative feeling where there is none. Perception is really important.”
Well … OK. There is also such a thing as being hypervigilant to imagined perceptions, but schools have to be the stewards of their own best interests. While it might be the neighborly thing to do, Prep certainly has no obligation to engage beyond its comfort zone.
But Docterman’s leadership classes refused to accept it as the final answer. The suggestion was made, and seconded, to go it alone.
So another T-shirt was designed – “Pirates Just Zoo It” it reads – and events choreographed. Every lead-up day has a theme: senior Kysha Lybecker had sweatpants hiked up to her armpits Tuesday in honor of Senior Citizen Day. As with all the spirit games in the area, charity and service are drivers. Friday is also a Coaches vs. Cancer event, so money will be raised for that cause and the Susan B. Komen Foundation. In the past, the Pirates have generated help for Make-A-Wish, the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Second Harvest.
“I’m not sure people realize how much Rogers students give back every year,” Docterman said.
One other thing: Among the many signs and posters being painted Tuesday were some in support of … the Bullpups.
“We really are trying to invite them to join us,” Lybecker said. “Maybe if they see how much fun it is, they’ll want to do it next year.”
Spirit games are wild animals. They have been known to drive some coaches crazy in that the biggest crowds their teams will play in front of seem to pay so little heed to the game, random roars crashing about unrelated to the action.
“Everybody cheers,” Boren said. “Even the parents.”
So the smart thing is to just go with it: The energy harnessed and good that gets done lasts longer than any thrill from a single winning shot.
“I’m upset that it’s not a competition,” Lybecker said, “but it’s cool that we’re still trying to keep the spirit up at our school. If we didn’t have it, we’d feel kind of empty.”
How about you?