By Dave Vardaman Photography by Dave Shelikoff
Intermission is over. The shine of brass moves away, the glitz of uniforms slows, and the swoosh of the flags and batons moving in unison has been replaced by a still calm as the nearly three hundred marchers usher themselves en masse from the playing field that serves as the center of attention. In their place, athletes prepare to reengage in sport.
In this changing of the guard, one would expect a reduction in energy and a crowd that bides its time until the restart of the athletic competition, but not the Niceville High student section. There is an explosive crescendo building ... the drumline is on the way. From their staging area behind the goalpost, the percussionists begin to assemble. With the initial strike of cadence on a snare drum—signaling the “army” to march forward—the six-hundred-plus revelers in the student section begin to shudder like a pot of water on the stove about to reach its boiling point.
With the arrival of the drumline in front of the student section, the link between spectator and performer is complete. The drumline begins with a steady beat that makes the audience bounce with excitement. As the beat accelerates, the audience plays its part as each spectator wraps arms across classmates’ shoulders, swaying forward and back while yelling a rhythmic “hooo-hooo.” First, you hear it from the student section, then you hear the rest of the marching band from its station roughly fifty yards away. If you didn’t know better, you would think you were in a persistent echo chamber. Finally, at the jam session’s crowning moment, a simultaneous eruption of Silly String from hundreds of students climaxes the event. It is a sight to behold.
While this ritual seems as if it might have been passed down from generation to generation, it is actually fairly new. So new, in fact, this year’s graduating class didn’t have this performance when they began high school. It started as an idea in 2008 between an energetic leadership teacher and an enthusiastic band director to help increase school spirit and involvement of the full student body. In a short period of time, it has evolved into an event that literally binds the whole school. When six hundred fans in the student section combine with nearly three hundred members of the marching band and they are simultaneously roaring their school spirit toward roughly one hundred classmates on the field, you’re witnessing a thousand energetic youth sharing the common goal of supporting one another. Impressive as this display is, how the school makes it work is just as interesting.
The effort is run almost solely by the students as they make all the moving parts come together. From the fight song cheers to dance movements to musical selections and even crowd control, they create a performance unlike any seen at a high school sporting event. Lastly, the performance is a superb lesson in how the effort of a small group of dedicated people, including students and teachers, can create a greater good for the entire community.
Four years ago on a football Friday night in Niceville, you would have seen a normal high school game not unlike hundreds of others played across the country. Today, however, you are part of an experience that words and pictures can only attempt to capture—the sound and motion of SPIRIT.
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