Surging spirit: Sailors have more school pride than ever this fall
Last year, the stands at Steamboat Springs High School sporting events were mostly empty. The lack of fans made wins feel unexciting and losses feel devastating. There was no energy in the gym or at the field.
This fall, there are few restrictions for spectators, so they’ve returned in droves. The Sailors faithful arrive with adoration and enthusiasm, which they share endlessly with the players, by way of screams, signs, stomps and shirts.
“It has a huge influence and impact on our games,” said Jay Hamric, Steamboat’s head football coach. “When you look over to the crowd and you see hundreds of kids joining in cheers and chants and songs, it just gets everyone motivated. It’s the reason why we play sports — the community spirit, the feeling of connectedness and togetherness. It just motivates our players to practice harder, play harder and to live up to the expectation of ‘we’re going to do this, and we’re going to win.’”
Changing the culture
Hamric’s decision to take on the head football coach role was one of many factors that aligned this year to propel student pride to a new level.
Even before the team started winning, Hamric helped boost excitement about the team in the players, parents and student body. His attitude and coaching style and coining of the motto, “Be the change,” was enough to motivate and rejuvenate the players. With their optimism and passion for the sport reignited, the Sailors posted fliers and asked everyone they knew to show up to the season opener Aug. 28, and a lot of people showed up.
That first win created a momentum that is generating more and more exhilaration each day. The students are proud of the team now that they are winning for the first time in over a decade. That pride has spread to their peers and parents and multiplies with each victory. The happier the fans are to be at games, the better the team wants to play.
The same thing has happened at hockey games. Yancey Rushton took over the team last year and began guiding it out of a slump. Through the first week of the season, players were already citing a change in culture. They were excited to play hockey again, and that rubbed off on the student body.
This fall, with full capacity allowed at the ice rink, the student section has ballooned from a dozen dedicated friends, to a rowdy color-coordinated crowd of more than 50.
“I want to give a huge shoutout to the seniors at our high school,” Hamric said. “They are the ones who are orchestrating the support and making sure that all sports teams are getting a strong student section that’s enthusiastic, loud and engaging. Kudos to the senior class for leading this. Last year with COVID and cancellations of sports games and sports seasons, they realized how lucky we are when we do have these opportunities. They just wanted to make the most of the season.”
For seniors, the last “normal” school year they had was their freshman year. Their sophomore year was cut short in March, and their junior year was out of whack with strange schedules and no events. It’s hardly surprising they’ve latched on to every opportunity to cheer on their friends.
Hamric just hopes this energy can continue into the future.
“That’ll be the challenge to sustain this,” Hamric said. “And to create the environment and support and leadership at all levels to continue this into not just the rest of our season, but the winter season, spring sports seasons and into next year.”
Investing in school spirit
Making the most of the year, the Steamboat Springs High School Booster Club decided to take its job a few steps further and bolster school spirit in whatever way they could.
The club fundraises for sport teams and athletes and covers costs not paid for by the district. In the past, it paid for ice time for the hockey team. Now, the district has taken over those costs, so the club decided to invest in school spirit.
That’s taken the form of partnering with the Spirit Club to host the tailgate that will precede Friday’s homecoming football game. The booster club helped reach out to donors and ensure the event is a hit, complete with face-painting and sign-making stations and corn hole. The club also purchased Sailors shirts for every freshman this year.
“Last year, one of the things that we noticed was unless you participate in a sport or a club, you don’t really have access to Sailors gear at the high school,” said Jen Hubler, booster club president. “What if they don’t play a sport at all? Then they’re never going to get a piece of Sailors gear. We wanted all the kids to have something to wear to a football game, a volleyball game, whatever it may be, just to show their school spirit.”
The booster club partnered with Dan Hagney, a Sailors parent and owner of B Marked Promotions, to design and hand out shirts to each freshman. That partnership continued in the form of a seasonal Sailors spirit store. At the beginning of each sports season, the “store” opens, and orders are collected.
The investment is worth it for Hubler, who has family in Highland Park, Texas. She travels to watch the historic high school football team play and is in awe of how passionate the entire community is about the team. If the booster club can help bring a little bit of that devotion to Steamboat, it’s worth every dollar.
“Giving kids a piece of spirit gear to make them feel like they’re a part of something just helps the school community and school spirit grow,” Hubler said. “Especially coming out of COVID when so many kids were isolated. … If the booster club can do one thing to make sure that a kid feels like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and they belong … that’s something I’m happy to do.”
Another reason more people may be showing up to games is because the district made admission free to limit the exchange of money, among other reasons.
The district and the booster club can offer opportunities to be spirited, but it’s up to the students to accept those offerings and encourage their peers to take advantage of them. The Spirit Club and Leadership Class feature the most spirited Sailor students who help arrange activities like powder puff football, a boys volleyball game and more.
Leadership is a class led by Kari Faulk, who asks the students at the beginning of the semester what they care about, to which they answered school spirit. She had no objections to the cause and let them run with it. Leadership has a large hand in the daily homecoming week activities and the dance.
“It’s their school. If that’s what they care about, then that’s what they should be focusing their energy on,“ Faulk said. ”I really believe that school spirit matters. Spirit is showing up to support each other and feeling like you belong. … That’s what spirit is. It’s not just yelling loud at football games.“
Shannon King Utu and Sara Stout are the faculty sponsors of Spirit Club. King Utu has watched spirit dwindle over the years and wanted to play a role in bringing it back.
“I grew up in Steamboat and graduated from here,” King Utu said. “When I was here, school spirit was a big deal. Everyone would go to the games, paint their faces, and it just made being a Sailor really fun.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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