published Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Pep rallies still serve bonding purpose

Mark Pierce cheers for the football team as they pass during the school's "Tiger Walk" pep-rally at Ringgold High School on August 29, 2014.
Mark Pierce cheers for the football team as they pass during the school's "Tiger Walk" pep-rally at Ringgold High School on August 29, 2014.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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    The “Tiger Girls” dance team prepares to lead the school’s “Tiger Walk” pep-rally at Ringgold High School last Friday.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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There was a time when pep rallies were a social happening. A time to get just a little rowdy and certainly boisterous, most often with an upcoming football game being the focus.

"Students enjoy pep rallies, yet the participation over the years has dropped," observed Ringgold assistant athletic director Lee Shell. "It's not a lack of school spirit, just a change in student attitude. When our teams walk the halls for the Tiger Walk, there is energy and excitement."

Rallies rarely happen every week, especially if the team is playing on the road. The exception might be a road game against a school's major rival.

"Some of our students remain seated, but a lot of them enjoy the time," Rhea County athletic director Micah Ruehling said. "Obviously it's hard to get 'pumped' if your team is bad or even mediocre. Our best pep rallies have come when we were reaping the harvest in the win column."

The rallies at McCallie are built into weekly assemblies on Fridays. Before the Blue Tornado's season-opening game against Cleveland, upper school principal Kenny Sholl and dean of students Hank Hopping accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge and were thoroughly doused.

"We do a bit more for home games, and, of course, the pep rally before the game with Baylor is quite a production. The students from GPS come to our campus for lunch with a pep rally to follow," Sholl said. "Football games are such community events. They bring students, parents, alums and friends to the campus, not to mention that the games actively involve many students from players to managers, cheerleaders and band members."

The community at South Pittsburg is normally football-crazy. and students attend pep rallies on Friday afternoons, pretty much the last 15-20 minutes of the school day.

"As far as student participation, it depends a lot on the game. Some [rallies] are really good and some are not," South Pittsburg principal Danny Wilson said.

There are just two or three rallies each football season at McMinn County, and those 30-minute sessions depend on the importance of the upcoming game.

"School participation is not as good as it probably was in the past, but it's still pretty good," Cherokees coach Bo Cagle said. "The band plays, the cheerleaders cheer. It's still pretty cool."

While there is no official policy in Hamilton County schools, assistant superintendent Lee McDade seems to favor them.

"As a former coach, I think that pep rallies do serve a purpose and do help students and athletes develop a sense of school pride," he said.

He and school administrators are mindful of the balance of academic pressures, athletics and the complete development of students.

On the days of big Ringgold games, Shell said, a happy medium has been reached with the Tiger Walks through the school's halls.

"With the new standards and the understandable high demand for solid test scores, we have Tiger Walks," he said. "The team being recognized will follow members of the band as they perform, cheerleaders and the dance team through the halls. Students are usually lined up and cheer as the team passes by. This cuts down on the amount of seat time students miss with the traditional pep rally, and our students seem to enjoy this format."

"Ultimately the need for bell-to-bell teaching demands that students be in the class as much as possible."

Notre Dame principal George Valadie, like most of his peers, wouldn't dream of sending students back to class following a pep rally. Yet there is a unique rally tradition at Notre Dame, beginning with band members walking through the hallways playing the fight song.

"When the band plays, kids can fall in line behind them [on the way to the gym]," he said.

There then are cheer competitions between classes or different groups.

It is, though, the desire to involve all students that keeps pep rallies alive.

"All of our pep rallies are community events. That is, the entire school participates," Baylor athletic director Thad Lepcio said. "The big one naturally is the day of the McCallie [football] game. While the focus of that one is certainly the varsity football game, we recognize every fall sport from sixth grade through high school and from cross country to soccer to football."

Like most others, Baylor administrators realize the need to include all school members. They also have a winter rally near the dates for the Baylor-McCallie/GPS basketball games, swim meets and wrestling meet and a spring rally with the same philosophical approach.

"We feel it is very important to celebrate as an entire school community. We have purposefully attempted to recognize all teams and all sports as part of our message that we are one Baylor family," Lepcio said. "We also recognize that we are in the South and football and football games bring our community together."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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