Carl Bosch really loves pep rallies.
Cheerleaders fly through the air like Muppets shot from a cannon. A tall, 120-pound basketball player thumps his chest in imitation of an NBA giant as he breaks through the paper banner. Teachers, their glory days of sport behind them, run and huff up and down the court in an effort to, once again, defeat the eight-grade team. With all its fanfare, cheering, and hoopla, last week we celebrated our annual middle school pep rally and cheered for … ourselves.
It all began with Spirit Week. Monday was Crazy Hat Day, where a few students wore an odd assortment of silly headgear (I actually saw a misshapen birthday cake), but most boys took advantage of the opportunity to wear their baseball caps to school. Tuesday was Clash Day (not to be mistaken for “the Clash”—the 80’s rock band that might have inspired spitting on blackboards and kicking the tar out of other students). Clashing was simply the mixing of every possible color combination of clothing. Girls seem to be much better at clashing than boys. Perhaps they have a wider color spectrum throughout their wardrobe, or perhaps they just feel more comfortable looking like temporary idiots, but they did it quite well.
The day of the pep rally is Red and White Day, and virtually everyone, teachers included, wears some form of those colors—even the principal. The bleachers are awash with almost 800 students in various degrees of redness, complete with face painting. It all comes to a cacophonous, semi-dangerous, explosion of noise and activity. The band begins with a raucous version of “Louie, Louie” which, to my recollection as a teenager in the 1960s, was supposedly filled with dirty sexual overtones despite our inability to understand a single word. Time whitewashes many a bad activity.
The cheerleaders come out, beginning with that age-old cheer of shouting out their names in cadence. I can’t quite make out any of the names despite the fact that I know most of the girls. There’s a little Annette Funicello about all of them, but now I’m really dating myself. They run into a little problem when their iPod fails to play the music for a dance routine. In a surreal moment, as if we’ve all stepped into a Fellini film, they complete the dance, gyrating, clapping, and getting the groove on in complete silence. They get a rousing cheer from their classmates. They finish their portion of the program by flipping the smallest of their cadre into the air with twists and turns. I look away, fearing the inevitable thump to the hardwood.
Our school mascot is something called a Thunderbird, which I assume is a winged animal not unlike a hawk. A student, replete with wings and a beak, runs along the sidelines in front of the bleachers exhorting the crowd to be … peppy. And they are! They yell, laugh, chant, scream, bang their feet, shout, clap, and have a splendid time. I wonder if they have pep rallies in Italy or Nicaragua or Latvia. Somehow I just can’t imagine it. There’s something about it that’s so American, at least in my mind. It reminds me of the old Archie comics, and I expect to see Moose chasing Jughead around the basketball court.
And then come the games. The male teachers face the boys’ varsity and show some prowess. Our male staff has dwindled in number, but we have enough to prevail without resuscitation. One of my friends, who sat out the last few years because of a bad back, plays in a state of blind nostalgia. He injures his knee. I wanted to play one more time as well, but my wife’s logic prevails, and I pass up the opportunity. Then the women, with about 20 members on their team, play against the girls’ varsity. More substitutes makes for less exhaustion. Finally, the sixth, seventh, and eight graders—their energy expelled—are released into the Thanksgiving holiday.
In the last few years, our basketball teams haven’t fared tremendously well on average. But no one can beat us on the pep meter. After all, we are the Thunderbirds!
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