Few have studied up for the MHSAA’s Battle of the Fans as much as Traverse City West senior Patrick Guiney did before the start of this year’s BOTF X competition.
He watched all of the finalists’ videos from the first nine years, and many of the semifinalists’ as well, diving in to uncover the best strategies to help he and his classmates deliver the Bleacher Creatures their second BOTF championship.
Of course, he watched all of Traverse City West’s past videos too, trying to see if those past sections had done something well that the current Creatures should incorporate this year, and to figure out where those past sections may have fallen short.
But watching all of those schools, his and others, also left a pretty significant impression about what BOTF, and more generally student sections, should be about.
“I think it’s really about bringing people together, leaving whatever is going on just letting go of it for a while and enjoying a big game with your friends,” Guiney said. “Maybe meeting some new people, and knowing that no matter what you’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s just a really positive environment that I feel everybody should be part of because (student sections) are just so much fun.”
The Bleacher Creatures have had a ton of fun this school year. And they’ve earned statewide fame to add to their memories of the experience.
Traverse City West will accept its Battle of the Fans X championship banner during halftime of the first Division 2 Boys Basketball Semifinal on March 25 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center. Finalists Buchanan and Midland Dow also have been invited to Breslin to be honored for this season’s achievement.
Traverse City West was chosen based on a vote by the MHSAA’s 16-member Student Advisory Council influenced by public vote on the MHSAA’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok sites. A total of 8,964 social media votes was received. The addition of TikTok this year added to the engagement substantially, as TikToks using the hashtag #MHSAABOTF2022 were viewed more than 700,000 times.
The Student Advisory Council based its vote on the following criteria: positive sportsmanship, student body participation, school spirit, originality of cheers, organization of the group, section leadership and overall fun. Nine semifinalists were selected from the original application group before Buchanan, Midland Dow and Traverse City West were chosen for MHSAA visits. Howell, Imlay City, North Muskegon, Petersburg Summerfield, Spring Lake and Yale also were semifinalists.
In addition to their other championship year, the Bleacher Creatures also were finalists in 2014 and 2017. Buchanan was a finalist for the seventh time this winter and has won championships in 2013, 2018 and 2020. Midland Dow entered the competition this year for the first time.
Below are our final takeaways from this year’s finalist visits:
Community Doesn’t Graduate: Buchanan
What we saw: At a game otherwise moderately attended by adults and opposing students, The Herd was out in force – as usual. After 10 years of Battle of the Fans, Buchanan students have reached a point in history where cheering on their teams and showing tons of spirit is all they’ve known – and especially as high school leaders have traveled to the middle and elementary schools every year to cultivate that culture. Herd leaders make games into gatherings, and this was just another during a year full of them as COVID-19 has eased. We watched this year’s Herd cheer the boys basketball team to a big win, but also sing and dance and just enjoy being back with each other in the stands, with plenty of representation from throughout the school as nearly half the student body showed.
Why we’re fans: A question we discuss after every BOTF visit is if we would’ve wanted to be part of the cheering section we just watched – and we’ve always left Buchanan with a resounding “Yes.” We’ve said this before, but every school would be served to replicate or at least borrow some of what Buchanan has created over the last decade. The relationships between high school leaders and the younger students who are following them, the ties between the athletes and their classmates cheering for them, and the connections between current Herd members and the people who came before them defines community.
Accept the Challenge Award: Midland Dow
What we saw: First-time BOTF applicant Dow will always have our respect for becoming the first to invite the MHSAA to an away game. The schedule caused them to bring us instead to Midland High, but the Chargers really impressed us with their organization, positivity and engagement throughout the game despite the rival Chemics’ win on the court. We dug the Doctors & Nurses theme and especially the fundraiser (again, at a road game) to buy snacks for local emergency room workers. Also notable – Dow has state-ranked girls basketball and hockey teams this winter, and the Chargers’ leadership includes members of both who put in additional time to make this section spark on top of commitments to those title-chasing sports teams.
Why we’re fans: The road game wasn’t the only challenge Dow accepted this school year. Of course, all of our finalists were left to restart their sections after COVID-19 spectator limits over the last 18 months, and Dow did so in a way others should copy – notably, stepping up their social media game and becoming a force not just at football and basketball but volleyball, soccer and hockey as well. Dow has had a section in years past but raised its game this fall and winter. We’re looking forward to seeing more – and next time at “Herb’s House” for a Dow home game.
Battle of the Fans champion: Traverse City West
What we saw: First off, possibly more fans than we’ve seen before, and stacked from the first row to the top of the high-rising bleachers. After past visits with the Bleacher Creatures, we were plenty familiar with the section’s organizational structure and leadership by its student senate, but we really admire how this year’s senators have embraced a fresh look to attract students from all grades and all activities to be part of the fun. Frankly, the Men’s Dance Team performance at halftime was pretty impressive – especially the aerials – and we can’t say enough about how much the drumline brings to the overall atmosphere of the game, especially working with the student section to rally the home team. Guiney regularly conducts interviews with fans in the stands and athletes from the various teams (and previously actors from the theater cast too) that are some parts serious but most parts silly, and getting all of those voices involved adds to the feeling of togetherness.
Why we’re fans: We’ve seen big crowds before. We’ve seen fans get crazy and sing and dance. We’ve seen fun halftime shows and entertaining quarter-break antics. All make student sections awesome.
But what really stuck out about this year’s Bleacher Creatures is the lengths they undertake to make a 1,600-student school feel much smaller. Leaders told us stories about how in past years, the school’s senate and by extension the Bleacher Creatures were thought to be just for the “cool kids” or certain social groups, and busting that reputation was a goal as the section reunited in the fall.
What they’ve achieved that way is a much more meaningful legacy that will be passed on by this year’s seniors, along with a revived championship student section.
Guiney and his classmates may be living it right now, but the significance isn't lost on them.
"I remember talking with some of my close friends who also (are involved) with the student section, during the early stages of this," he recalled. "(Saying) if we can win this and make our impact, that will last for a long time, and that will definitely fuel students of the future.
"I know that inspiring those kids and showing them how awesome a student section can be will definitely have a positive impact on the future of TC West and ensure that kids will be able to go to student sections with the same energy and have the same amount of fun. Because everybody deserves to have that experience."
The Battle of the Fans is sponsored in part by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.
Read all about it: Buchanan's 'Herd' Begins New Era with Same Bucks Energy
Read all about it: Dow Aims to Give Teams Advantage with Charger Spirit
Traverse City West
Read all about it: West's Creatures Filling Bleachers with Support for Titans Teams
Eight student-athletes who will be juniors at their schools during the 2022-23 academic year have been selected to serve two-year terms on the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Student Advisory Council.
The Student Advisory Council is a 16-member group which provides feedback on issues impacting educational athletics from a student’s perspective, and also is involved in the operation of Association championship events and other programming. Members of the Student Advisory Council serve for two years, beginning as juniors. Eight new members are selected annually to serve on the SAC, with nominations made by MHSAA member schools. The incoming juniors will join the group of eight seniors-to-be appointed a year ago.
Selected to begin serving on the Student Advisory Council in 2022-23 are: Kannon Duffing, Manchester; Claire Gorno, Gaylord; M'Khi Guy, Muskegon; Dawsen Lehew, Marcellus; Christian Sanders, Detroit Renaissance; Ben Sytsma, Grand Rapids Christian; Madeline Werner, Bay City All Saints; and DaNia Womack, Dearborn Advanced Tech Academy.
Those eight new members were selected from 115 applicants. That applicant total was the second-most ever, with the last three years featuring the three highest totals.
The first Student Advisory Council was formed for the 2006-07 school year. With the addition of this class beginning this summer, members will have represented 129 schools from 48 leagues plus independent schools that do not play in a league. Combined, the new appointees have participated in nine MHSAA sports, and seven will be the first SAC members from their respective schools.
The Student Advisory Council generally meets seven times each school year, and once more for a 24-hour leadership camp. In addition to assisting in the promotion of the educational value of interscholastic athletics, the Council discusses issues dealing with the 4 S’s of educational athletics: scholarship, sportsmanship, safety (including health and nutrition) and the sensible scope of athletic programs. There also is a fifth S discussed by the group – student leadership.
This school year, the Council selected the 2021-22 “Battle of the Fans X” champion, handed out championship trophies at Finals events, continued discussions about COVID-related issues and provided feedback to the MHSAA Representative Council on proposed rule changes.
The new additions to the SAC will join the Class of 2023 members who were selected a year ago: Sam Gibson, Plainwell; Brady Leistra, East Grand Rapids; Caroline Li, Okemos; Sam Matias, Lansing Catholic; Zar'ria Mitchell, Saginaw Heritage; Carney Salo, Escanaba; Brandon Thompson, Petersburg Summerfield; and Keira Tolmie, Clarkston.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.