What it takes to lead a nation

Tiger Nation: Striped overalls, face paint and everything red, white and black. Since the position of a student section leader was contrived by the students themselves, the definition of what makes a student section leader varies from person to person. This mini-series of articles aims to question and promote the student section and acknowledge those who exemplify Tiger pride. In this first installment, the “job description” of a student section leader is discussed by both students and staff. In the second story, the tradition of handing down the overalls will be explored. In the third story, the representation of Tiger Nation on social media will be addressed, and in the final story, athletes and coaches will describe what Tiger Nation means to them and the impact it has on their sports.

So, what is the role of a student section leader? What does a student section leader look like, sound like and act like? These questions all come with a variety of answers depending on who you ask. Whether it’s the pep and positivity, or the leadership, consistency and organizational skills, students prioritize different characteristics when it comes to those who are given the sacred red and white overalls.

Activities Director Troy Becker said that the role of the student section leaders is to work with the cheerleaders to create rowdiness within the crowd. “The leaders are typically the ones down front. For some of the group cheers, they’re working with the cheerleaders to initiate what the cheer might be. That’s kind of what their role may be. To work in cooperation with the cheerleaders,” he said. 

Current senior student section leaders Jack Plagge, Jack Moody, Jackson Barth and Derek Garcia commented on what they believe their roles are in representing Tiger activities. 

“I would say the job of a student section leader is to try and bring people together and support our athletic teams, at least that’s what it has always been, so I have just followed tradition. It is an important role in my mind because hearing such a large number of students gives teams a reason to fight for, especially during tough times in a game, set, match, etc,” Plagge said. “I would also say it’s not an easy job either, having to balance school work, other athletics (in the winter for me) and attendance to as many events as possible.”

Barth said their job as student section leaders should be to promote all activities at the school. “I think our main goal as leaders should be to project equal attention to all activities and not leave any without recognition,” Barth said. “This is a hard goal to achieve, and it may never be fully achieved, but it should always be something we try to convey to our peers and the athletes. We want everyone to feel valued for the hard work they put into their passions.”

Focusing specifically on football, Moody said their job is to create a fun and positive environment in the student section. “For football games, I think our role was to set a good example for everyone else so we can represent our school with sportsmanship,” he said.

For Garcia, it’s all about supporting student athletes in their fight to victory. “Our job description is to get the student section hyped and to support our peers who are participating in sports,” Garcia said.

Principal Jason Wedgbury said he personally enjoys seeing positive and organized leaders in charge of the student section. “From my observation, the things that they’ve done is they organize. Where are we showing up, what are we wearing, leading cheers and setting, hopefully, a positive example for supporting our students,” Wedgbury said.

However, reactions to whether the student section leaders have always been positive influences is mixed. While some wish that certain sports were more well-attended or appreciated, others think our student section does a fine job of being supportive and getting rowdy at many of our athletic events.

Senior Ryan Dunlop said that the underclassmen should cheer a little bit louder at the football games. “I’d say our student section is pretty good, but I still think we could be louder more toward the top, like the sophomores and freshmen could be louder, and I think the student section leaders could help out with that,” Dunlop said.

While underclassmen may not be as rowdy as the upperclassmen would like, sophomore Chase Sannes said that he wants the student section to be more supportive and respect one another. “Some ways Tiger Nation hates on other grades is when they call out other grades during football games. Sometimes there is yelling when people don’t cheer enough, and I think we should all be supportive of each other,” Sannes said.

Plagge said he understands the frustrations of underclassmen, thinking back to his sophomore year. “I remember feeling the same way. It was very frustrating early on because parents would even text me and say we need to get everyone involved and be louder, and we all lost our temper because of the demand,” Plagge said. “We figured out later on in the football season that we needed to encourage younger students because yelling wasn’t working.”

Plagge said it’s hard for the senior leaders to get everyone rowdy, so they need the help of others. “What helps the most is we need students from their own grades to rise up and help lead their sections because it’s hard for guys up in the front to reach people clear in the back,” Plagge said. “We pick people … who are loud and [help] us promote the chants to their grades,” 

Wedgbury said the student section changes year to year, but overall, he’s impressed by the turnout and spirit. “The senior leaders who wear the stripes or are the leaders, they have a significant impact on the chants, the cheers, the involvement, the engagement—and that’s all over the place,” Wedgbury said. “I think they do a good job. If you’re going to compare us against other schools in the state, I think we do very very well. They show up, especially if it’s during the school day.”

There’s no doubt that every Friday night, the student section members packed their places at the Dome, and the Cell Center was booming with Tiger Pride during state week for volleyball. Not all sports and activities are as fortunate, though, when it comes to having Tiger Nation in attendance. Wedgbury said it’s not a lack of support, but rather a reflection of society’s interest as a whole.

“There’s a difference in attendance in different activities in our society. Football has always been a money sport that thousands of people show up to. It doesn’t matter what I think or our school thinks. We’re reflective, I think, of the larger society,” Wedgbury said. “You look at what are considered major sports, and I think our school population kind of follows suit with that. I don’t think it’s a distribution of support or a lack of support.”

Students also offered a variety of insights in a recent Tiger Hi-Line survey regarding what events Tiger Nation or the student section leaders attend. Some students said they think it’s only appropriate to go to sporting events since “it would be kind of difficult to cheer for someone while they’re in the middle of their trumpet solo,” one student’s survey response said. 

It may be disrespectful to cheer or holler at a concert, but some students believe Tiger Nation needs to do more by simply getting people to attend. Senior Holly Hayes said that art programs require the same time commitment and practice as sports, so attendance at concerts would be nice to see. “We are also still part of the school and take part in sports as well. It would also be a great way to shine some light toward the kids who aren’t in sports and only do arts,” Hayes said.

Becker said that the events that are attended will differ with who the leaders are. “I don’t think they have an official job description. It’s just kids who decided to take it on,” he said.  “Some leaders do many events. Some don’t do as many. It’s different year from year depending on who decides to take it on. It’s not an assigned role. It’s just kids that are doing                                                         it.” 

Women’s varsity basketball coach Gregg Groen also said that the attendance to activities varies from year to year, but said he does not know why. “I have coached in seasons where we get a great student body who attend games, and I have coached in seasons where we hardly get anyone to come and watch. I’m really not sure why it varies from season to season,” he said. 

A member of both the state championship volleyball team and women’s basketball team, senior Emerson Green said the comparison of attendance between the two sports is drastically different. “During volleyball season we would usually have a great student section and Tiger Nation would always come out and support, which gave our team lots of energy. Basketball needs the same support. When Tiger Nation comes out, it helps our team play hard, and it makes the games a lot of fun. We need Tiger Nation to show out for girls basketball the next couple weeks,” Green said.

Senior varsity soccer player, Andy Mustedanagic said the lack of Tiger Nation support at his soccer games doesn’t bother him. “As a young player my parents were the only ones going to my games and as I grew up not much changed. Once highschool came around it stayed the same with just my parents coming to games,” he said. I would say I’ve been accustomed to focusing only on the game and nothing else. So for me I don’t pay attention to who cheers or boos for me. I just play my game.

Although he said he wishes each activity received equal attendance, Wedgbury said it’s an unrealistic expectation. “I have enjoyed, when I go to a swimming event, I love to see it, but you’re not going to see as many people at a swimming event as you are at a football game. If you have that, ‘we don’t get as much support as that,’ you’re going to be forever sad,” Wedgbury said.

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