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CMS In Focus: Building School Spirit From Scratch

Rocky River High football team practices.

This week, WFAE has gone inside CMS as the new school year gets underway - the infrastructure challenges, the threat of school closures, the challenge of teaching with limited resources. Two brand new high schools opened this week, too. And that got us thinking about tradition and school spirit. Most of us went to schools where students had been singing the fight song for generations and the athletic teams had a history of state championship wins. What's it like to go a school with none of that history? The two new CMS high schools basically have to build school spirit from scratch. How is it done? WFAE's Julie Rose tried to find out. "Attack, Ravens attack!" chant girls in bright orange shorts and matching hair ribbons. It's cheerleader tryouts at Rocky River High and the girls are trying really hard not to slip up and cheer for their old teams. For instance, Alex Jackan was a Butler Bulldog until this, her junior year. There are no seniors here at Rocky River - they got to stay at their old high schools. Everything is so new at Rocky River, there's not a single soda stain on the bleachers, let alone any championship trophies on display in the main hall . . . which makes an aspiring cheerleader nervous. "I'm actually really scared that no one's gonna want to go to the games and they'll be like 'Oh this is lame,'" says Jackan. "I don't want to let that happen. We might as well make the best of it while we're here." The two new CMS high schools are clean slates, "kinda like an etch-a-sketch," says Brandy Clemmer, Rocky River's athletic director. Clemmer is probably the person most responsible for fostering the school's still-embryonic spirit: Where else is spirit more evident than in the stands on a Friday night? Winning helps, of course. But that'll be tough with no seniors at the school. "We don't have but maybe but one kid that played on a Friday night last year," says Clemmer. "They've never had that experience because they're so young. And they're little." So, "Raven spirit" will have to come from something other than winning. Clemmer wants students to focus on the difference they're making. "We'll make traditions this year that will stick forever, and these kids can actually say 'Hey look, I was there when it started," says Clemmer. As Clemmer sees it, school spirit at Rocky River will be born of ownership. But also, opportunity. That's something freshman Lamar Hood sees a lot of on the football field. "Come out here, everybody gets a fresh start - and I got a better chance to start," says Hood. Simply making the team has made the kids on the Rocky River football team fiercely proud to be Ravens. Never mind the losses they're sure to face against their old schools, Butler and Independence. At least they'll have a fair match in Hough High, the other brand new school that's also without a senior class. Hough has one advantage, though - the school already has a fight song. Rocky River's still working on that. Then again, Hough has the slight misfortune of a name that opponents could mispronounce as a taunt. "Like Ho' High," smirks Hough junior Kristina Black. "They're definitely gonna be chanting that." "But if that's all they got on us, who cares," adds Black's classmate Julie Thompson. The girls laugh off the early controversy that surrounded their new school's name. They say students are thrilled to be going to Hough. "They're like posting on Facebook, 'I've never been so excited to be going to school,'" says Thompson. "Everyone's just excited to be together," explains Black. Many of Hough's students were separated after 8th grade and farmed off to different high schools. Now they're back under one roof at Hough in Cornelius. It's the furthest north that CMS has every built a high school. And from the start, families seemed happy about Hough's boundaries - unlike the rancor over Rocky River's boundaries. The week before school started happy Hough parents and local dignitaries like Davidson Mayor John Woods swarmed the freshly-landscaped campus to celebrate. I asked him if he thought the crowd was a sign of school spirit? Not necessarily, was the reply. "But I think there's a community spirit that can evolve into a school spirit," said Woods. There's definitely school excitement at the districts new high schoools. But full-fledged, died-in-the-wool spirit will only come with time, with winning seasons and the spontaneous evolution of a quirky cheer that becomes a school tradition. For Hough and Rocky River, that starts tomorrow when they face off in their first football game of the season: two brand new studentbodies writing their histories on a blank slate.