Student section received after COVID-19 decline

Senior Josiah Old shoots a free throw against Columbus Academy as the crowd cheers him on to
make the basket and put the Lions up by three points on Jan. 17. (photo by: Siddarth Sivaraman)

From football Friday nights to basketball rivalries, the high school student section has been packed game after game this year, proving that it’s truly back after two years of masking and socially distanced crowds. Six dedicated students are at the front, growing student athletic culture and instilling school spirit.

Senior student section leader Mason Louis said the student section closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was small even before then.

“Even my freshman year, we only had football and a little bit of basketball, and then sophomore year we didn’t have any student section because of COVID-19,” Louis said. “Then junior year, it wasn’t great because of masks.”

Assistant Principal Craig McMillen said losing the student section during the pandemic and bringing it back under masking restrictions was one of the most challenging times for him as a school administrator.

“It really felt more like I was the mask police than I was someone who was there to help our students understand how to be great fans,” McMillen said.

Louis said past student sections lacked participation from other students. Student section themes used to be decided at the beginning of the year without student input, leaving student’s voices unheard, Louis explained.

“We wanted to change things up and make it a little more student-led, and we had some good ideas,” Louis said.

Junior student section leader Miles Redding said the student section’s Instagram account was created in August 2021, but it became much more active this year once the new leaders took over. They interview people at games and post it to the account, and the account now posts polls allowing students to decide the themes for games.

McMillen credited this year’s student leaders for energizing the student population and raising student attendance.

“I think one of the biggest things this year is there are some pretty pronounced leaders,” McMillen said. “They’re pretty organized as opposed to just a bunch of people standing around.”

Redding and Louis said high school administrators don’t really influence the student section and that the student section is student-led.

“They don’t really organize anything,” Redding said. “A rivalry game, like [Columbus] Academy, there will be more oversight because they know it’s a rivalry game and they know people will be saying more things, so they will make sure to stay close. But a game against Wellington, when it’s a blowout, they’re not really going to be watching.”

Louis said administration simply holds the student leaders accountable to the rules.

“Administration is just there to make sure that we don’t say anything that’s out of line,” Louis explained. “There are certain rules that we have to follow, and if we don’t follow those rules, then that comes back on us as the leaders.”

McMillen said he rarely has to remind student fans of the rules despite large crowds.

“This particular year, they listen, they’re super respectful and for the most part I have to say very, very little,” McMillen said. “Our kids are able to have fun and not feel like I’m breathing down their neck.”

Redding said attendance usually depends on a sport’s popularity and results. For example, Redding said he thought varsity soccer attendance grew over the season because of the team’s success, as they eventually lost in the Division II state championship. On the opposite end, Redding said energy at football games dropped off because of the team’s results.

“Attendance is high throughout [the season] because it’s football, but at the beginning of the season there were definitely more people and people were more energetic than they were towards the end of the season,” Redding said.

McMillen said while success is one reason for higher attendance, excitement to return to the student section after the pandemic was the biggest contributor to the larger crowds.

“The fall coming out of COVID, it didn’t matter whether we won 72-0 or got beat 0-54,” McMillen said. “The outdoor sports were so well-attended because I think people just wanted to be around each other and have that social interaction they had not been able to have.”

The student section leaders hosted a mock FOX Sports broadcast table for the boys basketball team’s 46-41 home win over Columbus Academy Tuesday, Jan. 17. During the game, they interviewed fans, teachers and a referee and they later posted a compilation of the interviews to the student section’s Instagram account.

Louis said they saw other schools doing it and thought it would be something fun to try.

“We look at a lot of other schools’ student sections, and what worked in the past, what didn’t work in the past,” Louis said. “It’s constantly evolving.”

Louis said the student section will have more special events as the spring sports season continues, but nothing specific has been planned for the future yet.

After non-family members had been barred from indoor games because of the pandemic, McMillen said seeing the student section filled for recent boys and girls basketball games was special.

“The energy was there, you could definitely feel it,” McMillen said. “There were a lot of alumni that I saw from when I was here teaching and coaching. They say, ‘Oh, it’s great to see all these kids having fun.’ Even they notice it; even the ones that have graduated and come back.”

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Sid Sivaraman
Sid Sivaraman is a senior at Bexley High School and a co-editor for the Torch student newspaper. Outside of the Torch, he is the president of Bexley Orchestra and performs in high school plays and musicals.